Greg Fertuck thought he won a contest three years ago, but he unknowingly signed himself up for an undercover operation involving members of Saskatchewan RCMP.
For the first time, the 68-year-old’s trial heard details of the major crime technique — commonly known as a Mr. Big sting — that led to him being charged with first-degree murder and offering an indignity to a body. The charges are related to the disappearance of Sheree Fertuck on Dec. 7, 2015.
Sheree was Greg Fertuck’s estranged wife
The undercover operation was known as Project Fisten. The effort included 136 “scenarios,” the term for orchestrated interactions involving undercover police. Nearly all of them included Greg Fertuck.
The cover person for the sting took the stand on Monday, explaining how surveillance of Greg Fertuck’s behaviour began in June 2018. A cover person is responsible for designing scenarios, ensuring officer safety and communicating with major crime investigators.
Undercover officers’ identities cannot be published due to a publication ban intended to protect their safety.
Surveillance showed that Greg Fertuck went to the same 22nd Street West liquor store on a daily basis. Two undercover operators then posed as members of a marketing and research company, doing surveys at the vendor and offering a fictitious contest to participants.
Greg Fertuck was selected for a two-person, all-expenses paid trip to the Canmore-Banff area.
On Sept. 13, 2018, Greg Fertuck and his common-law partner Doris Larocque flew from Saskatoon to Calgary before driving to the mountains. Along the way, they met a man and his daughter — who were also undercover police.
The group became friendly with each other, and court heard one week later, Greg Fertuck asked to work with the man. He accepted.
The testifying officer said Greg Fertuck learned that the fictitious organization had two sides to its business. One side appeared legitimate, and involved hauling vehicles from the United States, fixing them and providing them to dealerships to sell them on the side.
In the vehicle-hauling business, Greg Fertuck earned $20 an hour, according to the officer. The criminal side paid more, given the increased risk, the officer said.
The accused chose to work on the criminal side, court heard
The organization never claimed to traffic drugs, issue threats or use violence, according to the officer. Instead, members fostered an ethos of a “sophisticated criminal organization,” collecting loan shark payments, selling illegally-sourced diamonds and moving other contraband.
“None of these things were actually happening,” the officer testified.
Several scenarios were choreographed to send messages to Greg Fertuck, including how members should always tell the truth.
Greg Fertuck never asked what they were moving, according to the officer, likening himself to Sgt. Schultz, a character from the TV show Hogan’s Heroes. The character’s catchphrase was, “I know nothing.”
The accused and undercover officers had an inside joke that for all they knew, they could have been transporting “a case of dildos,” the witness said.
Over the course of the sting, the accused received $15,000 to $16,000 plus money for accommodations, meals and other expenses while travelling for work.
The operation culminated in Greg Fertuck’s arrest in June 2019 — roughly 11 months after Project Fisten began.
Mr. Big stings are controversial in legal circles. Opponents often compare the process to entrapment, arguing police befriend a suspect and manipulate them into admitting to crimes.
“The goal of the major crime technique is to find the truth,” the testifying officer said Monday.
All of the trial’s evidence to date has been presented in a series voir dire hearings, or trials within a trial to determine whether evidence is admissible. Justice Richard Danyliuk has yet to decide what will be admitted or excluded from the trial proper.
From the beginning, the testifying officer said Greg Fertuck’s drinking was a concern. The officer said it needed to be clear that police weren’t plying the suspect with alcohol.
“If Greg wanted to drink, he’d use his own free will to do that,” he said.
Officers were instructed to never order pitchers of beer, bottles of wine or anything that can be shared. However, alcohol needed to be present during many scenarios to make them appear more realistic, the officer said.
They also had several scenarios at strip clubs.
“Bad guys go to bars and they consume alcohol. It happens,” he said.
“Bad guys go to strip joints. That’s one of the things they do.”
A drunken incident at a poker game prompted a warning from Greg Fertuck’s supervisor in the criminal organization.
Undercover police told Greg Fertuck he could drink away from work, but not on the job.
Monday marked the beginning of week five of the murder trial. Proceedings are scheduled to last eight weeks.
An adjournment is anticipated at some point for Justice Danyliuk to rule on the admissibility of the Crown’s evidence before the defence determines whether it will call any evidence.