Undercover cop breaks down crying during police corruption hearing

The immense fear tied to one specific undercover job all came flowing back to Sgt. Jennifer Lafleur this week, as she testified at the trial of a Hamilton police officer who stands accused of aiding a known drug dealer for cash payouts.

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky's corruption trial entered its fourth day Thursday

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky, left, leaves court with his lawyer, Greg Lafontaine. Ruthowsky faces charges of bribery, attempting to obstruct justice, trafficking cocaine, criminal breach of trust, and conspiring to traffic marijuana. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The immense fear she felt on one specific undercover job came rushing back to Sgt. Jennifer Lafleur this week, as she testified at the trial of a Hamilton police officer who stands accused of aiding a known drug dealer for cash payouts.

Lafleur broke down and cried in the witness box as she began her testimony late Wednesday, recalling the stress of an undercover cocaine buy in Hamilton back in 2011.

The deal went south and was called off — and the next day, the Crown alleges, Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky of Hamilton police told the drug dealer who was paying him that he'd almost bought cocaine from a crew of undercover police officers.

"I have a very strong recollection of that day because it was probably the first time that I was very scared at the end of an undercover operation, and because it was a high level deal for me … involving a lot of cash I had on hand, at least $50,000," Lafleur said, choking back tears.

Ruthowsky, 44, has pleaded not guilty at the jury trial in Superior Court in Toronto to charges of bribery, attempting to obstruct justice, trafficking cocaine, criminal breach of trust, and conspiring to traffic marijuana.

The fact that I had that much cash on me, and we were moved a third time … I started to worry a little bit.- Sgt. Jennifer Lafleur

On Nov. 29, 2011, Lafleur, who is a Hamilton police officer, and her partner were part of an undercover RCMP drug sting, hoping to get close to some notorious Hamilton drug dealers.

This was a key part of the operation — a nine-ounce coke deal, sometimes referred to as a "nine pack."

She and her partner were supposed to do the deal in the parking lot of a big box plaza in Ancaster, but the supplier kept moving it. They went from location to location, "with their cover degrading with each stop," the Crown told the jury in its opening.

"Usually you do the meet, and it's quick," Lafleur testified. "You're not moved around from place to place. The fact that I had that much cash on me, and we were moved a third time … I started to worry a little bit." 

'Leave right now'

Finally, the undercover officers got to their last meeting point — a shopping plaza at 1860 Main Street West in Hamilton. Moments after they pulled into the parking lot, a Cadillac Escalade pulled in too, she said.

Lafleur's partner got out, and the people selling the coke started counting out the money. While she sat there and watched, her phone started lighting up.

"I'm now receiving several urgent calls and messages to me, saying leave right now," she said. Court wasn't told exactly what set off the alarm bells — but in the Crown's opening, the jury heard that the buyer didn't have the required amount of product to do the deal.

Lafleur got her partner's attention, and they got out of there.

In his opening, Assistant Crown Attorney John Pollard told the jury that the dealer who was paying Ruthowsky was the supplier for that deal.

"[He] didn't think much of it until Craig Ruthowsky called him the next day, asking if he had tried to sell a 'nine-pack' the night before. [The dealer] said that he had, and explained that it didn't go through," Pollard said.

"Craig Ruthowsky told him it was a good thing because the people he was going to sell the cocaine to were undercover police."

On Thursday, Ruthowsky's defence lawyer made an admission to the jury, saying it would be "highly inappropriate" for a police officer to reveal that another cop was part of an undercover investigation — especially if it revealed their true identity. 

A seized cocaine press makes its way to a drug dealer

Over the course of the trial, the jury has repeatedly heard about a cocaine press that's involved in the case. It's a device that's used to form cocaine into bricks.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury saw a video from a police officer named Robert Hansen. Usually, witnesses testify in court in front of the jury, but "there are good reasons the witness is not here," Justice Robert Clark said.

In the video, in which he's being questioned by an OPP officer, Hansen refers to a report as being in his "criminal disclosure."

The OPP officer asks Hansen about the cocaine press. According to the Crown's opening statement, the press belonged to the dealer who was allegedly paying off Ruthowsky. It was seized from a home by the guns and gangs unit back in 2009.

After its seizure, the Crown says, the press sat at the guns and gangs unit's headquarters — until 2011, when the federal government authorized the legal disposal of the press. 

The Crown alleges that instead, Ruthowsky lined up a buyer for the press for the dealer he'd been working with, and sold it to yet another drug dealer, splitting the profits. 

Hansen said in the video that he talked to Ruthowsky about the press making its way to a drug dealer.

"I said, 'Are you f--king with me?'" Hansen said.

Hansen acknowledged that what allegedly happened was not normal procedure. 

"He told me that it had gone to [another dealer], at a point when I obviously wasn't there to see," Hansen said. "I would assume nobody was there to see."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.