British Columbia

Vancouver police officer 'overtly perpetrated a fraud' during sex trafficking trial, lawyer tells court

A former Vancouver detective openly and deliberately deceived a B.C. judge during a high-profile sex trafficking trial, the lawyer for a notorious pimp argued in court on Tuesday.

Convicted pimp Reza Moazami says former detective James Fisher's misconduct amounts to abuse of process

Former VPD detective James Fisher pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation and breach of trust in 2018. (CBC)

A former Vancouver detective openly and deliberately deceived a B.C. judge during a high-profile sex trafficking trial, the lawyer for a notorious pimp argued in court on Tuesday.

Thomas Arbogast told a panel of B.C. Court of Appeal justices that James Fisher misrepresented his job as an investigator with the VPD's Counter Exploitation Unit during a hearing in the trial of violent pimp Reza Moazami.

"Mr. Fisher overtly perpetrated a fraud on the court by portraying his duties as an officer with the CEU in this way," Arbogast said.

During a 2013 voir dire in Moazami's trial, Fisher testified that his role with the CEU involved rescuing trafficking victims from exploitation and helping sex workers leave the industry. 

But, Arbogast said, "Mr Fisher did the exact opposite of that."

Evidence taken from text messages and victims' statements to police suggest that Fisher was actively helping young women continue in sex work, giving them advice about pimps they might work for and even tipping off a young madam about a planned police raid on her business, the court has heard.

Text messages entered into evidence also show Fisher speaking to one of the women about his idea for a phone app that would alert sex workers about bad johns, Arbogast told the court.

He said while that sounds like a good idea, "having an officer from CEU initiate that type of conversation is indicative of someone who is completely unmoored from their duties."

Fisher pleaded guilty in 2018 to sexual exploitation and breach of trust for kissing a 21-year-old victim in Moazami's case as well as a 17-year-old girl who'd been exploited by another pimp, Michael Bannon.

But Moazami's legal team alleges that Fisher's sexual and professional misconduct was much more extensive, involving nine of 11 victims and two witnesses in the Crown's case against Moazami. 

Moazami is asking the appeals court to order a new trial in his case, arguing that Fisher's misconduct amounted to an abuse of process and miscarriage of justice. 

Arbogast said Tuesday he could only speculate about how the trial would have been affected if Fisher's misconduct was uncovered at the time but suggested a mistrial could have been declared.

"We have conduct here that it is so egregious that it transgresses any concept of fair play and decency," Arbogast said.

Convicted pimp Reza Moazami has lost his appeals on dozens of convictions related to running an underage prostitution ring and obstruction of justice. (CBC)

Crown counsel Matthew Scott, however, told the court it would be "indecent and unjust" to overturn Moazami's convictions.

"Mr. Moazami was convicted on the basis of the complainants' evidence, not Mr. Fisher's evidence," Scott said.

He argued that Moazami's legal team "has not tendered any admissible evidence at all," saying it is largely based on hearsay and most of the alleged misconduct took place after those involved had testified in Moazami's trial.

Fisher's Facebook activity 'simply was not pursued'

For much of Tuesday's hearing, Arbogast focused on evidence from Facebook that was not available to the defence team during Moazami's trial.

He said it appears Fisher had at least two Facebook accounts — one under the name James Fisher that he described as a professional page, and another under the name Jim Fisher that he used to communicate with victims and witnesses in his cases.

Text messages suggest Fisher asked at least one young woman to delete their Facebook conversations when he realized he was under investigation.

And yet it appears that during that investigation, VPD officers did not look into Fisher's Facebook use.

"Nothing was ever done about those accounts … It simply was not pursued by the investigators," Arbogast said.

Justice John Hunter asked Arbogast if there was any evidence Fisher had used his Facebook accounts to improperly influence the testimony of victims and witnesses.

Arbogast replied that his team has not been able to access records of Fisher's communications on Facebook, which has been "a source of considerable frustration" for Moazami. The Crown has said it does not have the relevant records, either.

"We're saying a fair remedy is to order a new trial here so this matter can be explored appropriately," Arbogast said. "We feel like we're being put in a position with respect to Facebook of arguing with one hand behind our backs."

Hearings in Moazami's appeal continue on Wednesday morning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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