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Former senior N.S. Mountie sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing 10 kgs of cocaine

RCMP officer sentenced to 10 years for stealing 10kgs of cocaine
A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge called Craig Burnett's sentencing a sad day that showcased his fall from grace as an RCMP officer. Alexa MacLean reports.

A former senior RCMP officer has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing 10 kilograms of cocaine from an exhibit locker in Halifax in 2010 or 2011 and earning $100,000 from its sale.

RCMP Sgt. Craig Burnett was in financial trouble and dealing with a difficult and costly divorce when he turned to crime to ease his money woes.

Burnett, a former commander of an RCMP National Port Enforcement Team in Nova Scotia, was sentenced on Thursday after a 21-day trial, he was convicted in April on seven charges in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

In his decision, Justice James Chipman said the former RCMP sergeant gave the cocaine to a businessman friend, Scott Rowlings, who then gave it to a third man, Mike Kanasevich, to sell.

“As an RCMP officer at the relevant times, Craig Robert Burnett broke the very laws he was sworn to uphold,” Chipman said in his decision.

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READ MORE: Former N.S. Mountie found guilty of stealing, trafficking cocaine from evidence locker

Court heard the three men split the proceeds three ways in 2012, with Burnett collecting about $100,000 in cash.

Some of that money was used to buy a $17,000 BMW motorcycle, court heard.

In 2014, Kanasevich — a known drug dealer who had a falling out with the other men — approached the RCMP, telling them he had information regarding “a dirty cop.”

Over the next two years, the Mounties rolled out “Operation Handshake,” an undercover mission that eventually included both Kanasevich and Rowlings as informants.

Burnett, a 20-year veteran of the force, was suspended with pay in July 2016 and later retired.

He was arrested on Aug. 4, 2016.

This spring, he was convicted of breach of trust, trafficking cocaine, obstructing a police officer by counselling a witness to lie, and intent to mislead.

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In his ruling, Chipman said Burnett was in “terrible financial shape” in 2011 after splitting up with his wife in 2009.

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“Mr. Burnett felt ‘betrayed’ by his former spouse,” Chipman said in his ruling.

“He had gone through a difficult divorce and took on the matrimonial debt in order to preserve his pension. As a single father to two children, then about 13 and 11, there would have been financial challenges living as he did on his sergeant’s salary.”

In court, investigators accused Burnett of delivering the drugs to Rowlings in November 2011.

Rowlings, a businessman in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., testified that Kanasevich sold the cocaine to his connections in the “underworld” within three months.

“Mr. Rowlings spoke to Mr. Burnett about the money and told him to be careful how he spent it,” Chipman said in his ruling. “Mr. Burnett told him he was going to buy a motorcycle and pay off credit card debt.”

Chipman noted that in exchange for their testimony, Kanasevich was given a $200,000 reward and Rowlings was granted immunity from prosecution — and his $31,000 in legal costs were covered by the RCMP.

“Given that Mr. Kanasevich and Mr. Rowlings are unsavoury witnesses, I have regarded their testimony with special caution,” the judge said.

“On balance, I found the evidence Mr. Kanasevich and Mr. Rowlings as confirmatory of one another.”

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READ MORE: N.S. RCMP officer charged with stealing, trafficking cocaine from exhibit locker

Chipman said he had no reasonable doubt Burnett stole the cocaine.

“He was able to do this because of his intimate knowledge of the shipment in question, coupled with his understanding of the exhibit storage deficiencies … at the RCMP Oxford Street headquarters,” said the judge.

“I further find that, given his exposure to controlled deliveries, Sgt. Burnett would have been versed in how to replace the cocaine he stole from the sausage-like container(s) with a replacement substance, and this is what he did.”

During his testimony, Burnett said he had not stolen drugs or talked about drug sales with Rowlings or Kanasevich. He said it was an “absolute impossibility” for him to have done what was alleged.

“You cannot get in and remove, get back to the lockers and replace, it is categorically impossible,” Burnett told the court.

With files from Alexander Quon