Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky, a suspended guns and gangs unit officer from the Hamilton Police Service, is now on trial for allegedly giving sensitive police information to drug traffickers in exchange for cash.
The 45-year-old officer has been out on bail since being arrested in June 2015 as a part of Project Pharaoh, a Toronto police gang investigation into gun and drug trafficking in the city’s west end.
Assistant Crown Attorney John Pollard told jurors on Monday that Ruthowsky was part of a “pay for protection” scheme in which he would tell a Hamilton drug dealer, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, the locations of pending search warrants and covert investigative techniques used by police officers in exchange for $20,000 a month.
Ruthowsky met the drug dealer who trafficked mostly in cocaine in August 2011 after the dealer was arrested. The dealer told Ruthowsky he wanted to be able to conduct his drug dealing business without interference from the police and wanted to know who was informing on him. He said he believed Ruthowsky would be open to an offer for cash for protection.
The jury heard that Toronto police investigating Project Pharaoh were first made aware of Ruthowsky’s involvement with drug traffickers when they were listening to a wiretapped phone call on May 24, 2015.
The drug dealer who had the relationship with Ruthowsky called him after a fellow drug trafficker told him his driver “was robbed.”
On May 22, 2015, the driver had received a shipment of two kilograms of cocaine in the parking lot of Sherway Gardens. A Toronto police team doing surveillance on the drug buy watched as the driver met with a supplier before receiving the cocaine in a plastic shopping bag. The driver then stowed the bag in the lock box of his car. The driver went into the shopping mall and when he came out, the cocaine was gone.
The crown told the jury Toronto Police had obtained a general warrant and seized the drugs by smashing the back window of the car, prying open the lock box and removing the drugs from inside the car. The driver was not arrested because police did not want to tip their hand that he was being watched and that investigators were listening to him and his boss.
During the phone call with Ruthowsky, the dealer described the situation at Sherway Gardens and asks if the cops could be involved.
“Do they do stuff like that, like just take it and maybe charge someone later?” he can be heard asking in a telephone conversation recorded by police under the authorization of a judge, which is expected to be played during the trial.
Ruthowsky explained police do that during big projects and would need a general search warrant. Ruthowsky suggested it’s likely an inside job, but goes on to describe why police use general warrants.
Explaining how Ruthowsky became involved in actual cocaine trafficking, the crown alleged that he went to a laboratory in Mississauga after the drug dealer explained he was paying tens of thousands of dollars for a cutting agent on the grey market to mix with his cocaine, but didn’t know what it was.
Ruthowsky allegedly took a small package of powder provided to him to the lab used by police, submitted the powder under his own name and paid $1,000 to have it tested. The cutting agent was identified as phenacetin.
He conveyed the information to the drug dealer, who was then able to purchase the cutting agent wholesale over the internet. It saved the dealer thousands of dollars and the crown alleged it made his drug dealing operation more profitable.
He told his boss if the drug dealer thought he was a corrupt police officer, the dealer would give more information and that in turn would lead to more seizures.
Ruthowsky pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Greg Lafontaine, Ruthowsky’s lawyer, said outside of court, “We’re going to say everything we have to say in the courtroom. We’re convinced the evidence will overwhelmingly demonstrate his innocence.”