(l-r) Raymond Pollard, Steven Correia, Richard Benoit, Nebojsa "Crazy Ned" Maodus, Joseph Miched and John Schertzer
by Derek Finkle
Toronto Life - Apr. 09
The elite Toronto drug squad was charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of coke and cash from dealers. After an investigation that lasted 10 years and cost $50 million, the biggest case of police corruption this city has ever seen was thrown out of court on a technicality. How the six accused cops beat the rap
The nightmare that has haunted Christopher Quigley for the past decade began on the afternoon of April 30, 1998. Quigley was then a handsome 32-year-old with a buff physique and short dark hair. He made his living as a salesman. One of the products he hustled, marijuana, was illegal; the other, gemstones, he bought and sold on a wholesale basis with a partner. He lived in a spacious apartment on Eglinton West. On that life-changing day, Quigley drove his girlfriend to her evening shift waiting tables at Shoeless Joe's near King and Spadina, then headed north to meet a petty thief named James Monsalves in a parking lot adjacent to George Harvey Collegiate on Keele Street, close to Monsalves' home. Quigley had known Monsalves since they were kids.
Monsalves walked toward Quigley's car, got in the passenger side, and handed him a brown paper bag containing 10 pairs of shades from the Sunglass Hut. Monsalves asked Quigley if he wanted to buy any of them.
As Quigley would later testify in court, the car was stormed by a half-dozen men with guns before he had a chance to reply. They dragged him out of his car and wrenched his arm behind his back to restrain him. "What's in the fucking bag?" one of the men yelled at him. Quigley remembers another man grabbing the bag from the car only to throw it on the ground in disgust once he discovered it contained sunglasses. "Where's the stuff?" Quigley was asked. "Where's the stuff?"
He assumed they were cops, though they were wearing jeans and never flashed badges, and he guessed they were referring to pot or contraband. Quigley didn't have anything illegal on him, but the men handcuffed him anyway and walked him toward one of their unmarked cars. "What's going on here?" Quigley asked. "What am I being charged with?"
"Just shut up and you'll find out," the officer behind the wheel shot back. "You're in a lot of trouble."
Quigley was taken east on Eglinton to 53 Division, near Yonge, where he was led to the third- floor offices of the Central Field Command Drug Squad - home to the four teams whose job it was to combat downtown Toronto's illegal narcotics trade. A pair of detectives took Quigley into an interview room and began interrogating him. They demanded to know where he lived and whether or not he was growing marijuana or had any in his apartment. They told him they'd been watching him for a while.
Quigley claims he asked if he could speak to his lawyer. One detective responded, "First, if you don't tell me where this marijuana is, my guys are bulldogs, and we will decimate your apartment. You'll be sorry." To avoid having his place ransacked - the officers said they already had a search warrent - Quigley confessed that he had a small amount of pot stashed in a bag of dog food. The officers left the room, and he assumed he'd be let go when they discovered he wasn't running a grow-op out of his apartment.
Instead, they returned a few minutes later and led Quigley out into the main office area, where he was questioned by John Schertzer, a tall detective with pointed features and a receding hairline. The other officers called him "boss". Quigley says Schertzer immediately began barking at him: "Where are the drugs? Where's your money?" Quigley insisted he didn't have much of either. He claims Schertzer struck him across the face. This, he says, was the beginning of a series of beatings.
Another officer took Quigley to a different interrogation room and left him alone. An hour later the door blew open, and two officers in their 30s - guys Quigley would subsequently identify as Schertzer's burly drug squad constables Richard Benoit and Nebojsa Maodus - lunged at him with their fists clenched; they punched, beat and choked him. Eventually, his head hit the wall and he blacked out. Quigley woke up in a pool of blood. The door opened before long, and the same two officers, accompanied by Schertzer, returned to deliver another beating. Over and over, Schertzer demanded Quigley to tell them where he hid his money and drugs.
At 11 p.m. that night, Schertzer and his crew searched Quigley's apartment. They seized two kilos of marijuana from the dog food bag. (Quigley would later claim that a six-carat sapphire had gone missing during the search, along with an expensive pair of alligator-skin cowboy boots.)
The address on Quigley's driver's licence was his mother's residence, not his apartment. So an officer with Schertzer's team obtained a second search warrant over the phone. Schertzer's squad arrived at Greeba Quigley's house on Bideford Avenue, near Avenue Road and the 401, at about 1 a.m. Greeba, a retired schoolteacher in her early 60s, was asleep. When she opened her front door in her housecoat, they barged inside. While they searched her house, the officers asked her if she had any of her son's money or drugs. She admitted to keeping some of Christopher's money in a safety deposit box - most of which he'd received from an insurance settlement after losing a diamond ring - and, without any protest, Greeba handed over the key.
After 10 hours in the custody of the drug squad - allegedly with no food or drink or contact with a lawyer - Quigley was turned over to uniformed police officers on the ground floor of 53 Division and placed in one of the cells. His face was covered in blood. Before long, he began coughing up more blood. As he felt himself losing consciousness, Quigley heard an officer say, "Holy shit, call 911!" He was taken to Sunnybrook Hospital, where he was treated for extensive bruising, a gash above his left eye that required seven stiches, and a fractured rib. (The officers claim Quigley's injuries occurred when he became violent - upon learning the cops had searched his mother's home - and had to be restrained.)
After Quigley was treated for his injuries, Schertzer and another member of his drug squad, Steven Correia, arrived at Greeba Quigley's CIBC branch with yet another warrant. Schertzer and Correia claimed they seized $22,850 in cash from the safety deposit box; Quigley says the box contained at least twice that amount. The branch manager later testified that he'd watched Schertzer and Correia empty the safety deposit box into a clear plastic bag, and that he remembered a "rainfall" of $100 bills. In Schertzer's account of the denominations, however, he claimed there wasn't a single $100 bill.
Christopher Quigley would eventually sue John Schertzer and his team for assault and robbery. (Schertzer denies the claim and, through his attorney, declined to be interviewed for this story.) Quigley isn't the only drug dealer who alleges he was roughed up and robbed by the squad. Between 1997 and 1999, when Schertzer's team was disbanded, at least 47 people lodged complaints about excessive force, unlawful search and seizure, and theft of cash or valuables totalling roughly $610,000. The result was the deepest investigation into police corruption in Canadian history.
The investigation into the drug squad all started with a slight, balding 46-year-old criminal lawyer named Edward Sapiano. A Harley Davidson - a partial payment from a client - is the first thing one encounters in the doorway to his Cabbagetown loft. It's impossible to imagine Sapiano relaxed. Whatever he does - talk, laugh, shuffle around, answer the phone ("Sapiano here!"), smoke or remember something important - he does in a slightly manic fashion.
Like many criminal lawyers, Sapiano believes everybody, however shady or unpopular, deserves a fair trial. (One of his clients is Jeremiah Valentine, the man accused of shooting teenager Jane Creba near the Eaton Centre on December 26, 2005.) He's known in the legal community for taking on tough cases and for his attention-getting courtroom tactics. Four years ago, Sapiano tried to have a Supreme Court judge removed from a trial because he believed the judge was biased in favour of Crown prosecutors.
He also grabbed headlines by taking on the police. In 1991, he began compiling a database to track alleged misconduct among Toronto-area officers - from criminal convictions to specious courtroom testimony. Sapiano's database was so thorough that the Criminal Lawyers' Association took it over five years later and still maintains it.
Sapiano initiated his own investigation of Schertzer and his men in 1999, when he became convinced they had robbed one of his clients - an American cocaine dealer he refers to as Client Zero - of $50,000 immediately after arresting him. Sapiano was armed with statements from hotel employees who saw the police remove a bag allegedly containing the cash from Client Zero's room - evidence Schertzer and his men never acknowledged in their reports.
Sapiano began calling fellow defense attorneys. "I said, look, we all know this is going on," he recalls. "Everyone in the justice system knows this is going on. I want to do something about it. Investigating a drug squad in Canada was unheard of - it had never been done."
The CFC (Central Field Command) drug squad was considerd an elite unit, attracting ambitious officers willing to combat dangerous networks of criminals. (Bill Blair, the current Toronto chief, has a drug squad stint on his resume, as do all his deputy chiefs.) Sapiano knew that drug squads are also considered high-risk units because, without strict supervision, officers can be tempted by confiscated narcotics and drug money. Police forces in New York, Los Angeles and Miami experienced widespread drug-related corruption scandals in the 1980s - an FBI investigation deemed 10 per cent of the Miami police corrupt. [...]
Inspector Tony Corrie, a round-faced Englishman with a fierce loyalty to the force, had been assigned by Professional Standards to coordinate a review of more than 300 cases with which Schertzer's team had been involved since 1996. [...]
Corrie summarized his findings in a report filed to Chief Julian Fantino, and noted that the federal Department of Justice had already stayed charges in more than 65 of the force's drug-related cases - including the case against Client Zero - because evidence from drug squad officers could be considered suspect. Corrie was concerned that Schertzer's team had provided dishonest evidence and testimony. In his report, he asked, "How did the Service allow this person to be promoted and supervise others when repeated warning signs existed about the officer's methods?" [...]
Fantino quickly acted on Corrie's advice. In the summer of 2001, he announced the appointment of RCMP Chief Superintendent John Neily as head of the newly minted Professional Standards Special Task Force. The STF was to focus on allegations against Schertzer's drug squad and, in Fantino's words, "follow the truth regardless of where it took them." Neily was a well-liked investigator who'd been working in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) for the RCMP since 1993. He'd run a major task force on organized crime in the Toronto area in the late 1990s and had worked closely with both federal and provincial prosecution teams in the city, as well as other forces that police the GTA - he seemed like an ideal person for the job. [...]
Schertzer's personnel file told the story of a man who had wanted to be a police officer since he was five years old. The son of German immigrants, he was raised in Kitchener and joined the Toronto Police Service as a cadet in 1975 at age 17. His wife, Joyce, is also an officer with the Toronto police.
After reviewing his discipline records, however, Neily concluded that "the man had problems from almost the time he first hit the streets of Toronto." When Schertzer was confronted by his supervisors about complaints, he shrugged them off, saying they were all coming from "criminals he or his squad had charged in the past," and that these criminals had all "fabricated" an elaborate conspiracy while doing time together at the Metro West Detention Centre.
Neily came to realize that Schertzer's superiors had been able to overlook the complaints and protect him from demotion or censure because of his arrest record, which was much higher than that of the other drug teams. Once Neily scratched the surface, though, he discovered that as many as 82 per cent of those cases fell apart before reaching trial. As Neily gathered evidence, he began to believe that Schertzer and his men were motivated by greed - not the pursuit of justice. [...]
If the drug squad had stolen money from the dealers, they must have been spending it on something - and living beyond the means of the average detective. Later that year (2002), Neily decided to hire a forensic accounting firm to look at the financial affairs of the squad, along with those of their spouses and other family members. The findings were submitted in two binders. Neither has been made public, but in a report for Fantino, Neily alluded to what they contained. The "major findings", as Neily called them, "related to Detective Sergeant Schertzer and, to a lesser degree, retired Detective Constable Miched." The accountants analyzed instances in which the suspected officers booked a trip, made large purchases, deposited cash into their accounts, made cash payments toward credit cards or loans, or spent money gambling around the time of the alleged thefts. In the end, they got "hits of interest on 23 of the 49 cases studied." Fourteen of them involved transactions by Schertzer. During Schertzer's last couple of months with the squad - a period in which there were no less than a dozen reported thefts - he bought significant amounts of traveler's cheques with cash. [...]
The STF also interviewed a police constable who, while assigned to the CFC for a few months during Schertzer's years, was astonished by, as he puts it, the "lifestyle of the team." He couldn't keep up with them. Schertzer and the boys partied up to three times a week, he said, and the "boss" always controlled the cash. [...]
As the investigation wrapped up in 2003, Neily concluded that Schertzer had led his group of officers on a "crime spree in the drug culture of Toronto." Neily felt 218 criminal charges were justified against 12 former CFC officers, but the attorney general's office decided to pursue only the strongest cases in what was expected to be a complicated prosecution. The length of time it took to make this decision strained relations between Neily and the Crown prosecutors. In a letter sent in March 2003, Neily complained that the Crown was taking too long to review the briefs he'd submitted and was failing to formalize its strategy. "We cannot continue to wait months and months for action on your part," Neily implored. "I have said this to you time and again and yet there is no change."
Ten months later, on January 7, 2004, Schertzer and five constables from his squad - Joseph Miched, Nebojsa Maodus, Steven Correia, Raymond Pollard and Richard Benoit, all long-time officers with the force - were indicted on 40 counts of corruption, including extortion, theft, perjury and assault. Four others (one detective and three constables) were named as unidicted co-conspirators and expected to appear in court as Crown witnesses. [...]
Despite the rift between the Crown and the STF, the preparations for the trial continued to grind on. Between May 2006, when the preliminary hearing for Schertzer and his co-accused ended, and the start of pre-trial motions in September 2007, the prosecution delivered another 110,000 pages of disclosure material to the defence. (Quigley and Ioakim were among the witnesses at the preliminary hearing.) Indeed, much to the chagrin of the trial judge, Justice Ian Nordheimer, disclosure documents continued to arrive during pre-trial motions, right up until January 2008.
Lawyers for Schertzer and his co-accused, fed up with the last minute mountains of disclosure, argued that their clients' right to a quick trial had been violated. They asked Nordheimer - believing it unlikely he'd agree - to dismiss all charges.
What happened next was as much a surprise to the defense as it was to the Crown. On the day Nordheimer was to deliver his decision on the "unreasonable delay" application, the courtroom was only half full. Few of the reporters covering the case thought the defence's delay motion had a chance, and many hadn't bothered to show up. Nordheimer was poker-faced as he read his decision. In a dispassionate voice, he wondered aloud why a case that involved alleged misconduct "that occurred, for the most part, in 1997 and 1998" was coming to trial in 2008.
Nordheimer concluded, "No explanation for the glacial process of this prosecution has been offered." All charges against Schertzer and his squad were stayed. Joyce Schertzer rushed to the front of the courtroom to hug her husband. The other officers, dressed in dark suits and brightly patterned ties, tearfully embraced. [...]
Insiders estimate the final cost of the case against Schertzer and his squad - including related investigations and the prolonged court proceedings - to be as high as $50 million...The province's attorney general, Chris Bentley, suddenly found himself in the hot seat when the heads of various legal associations demanded that he account for the delays. [...]
A handful of prominent lawyers speculated that the attorney general's office moved the trial at a snail's pace for political reasons. Julian Falconer, who's representing an alleged robbery victim in a lawsuit against the force, told the CBC that "the actions on the part of senior officials (in the attorney general's office), be they deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers, in failing to respond to those alarms effectively, have got to be characterized as intentional."
One of the task force's own investigators was also one of its loudest critics. Sergeant Jim Cassells, a clean-cut, husky 53-year-old training specialist, accepted a transfer from his job at Etobicoke's 21 Division to the STF in 2001. Cassells says he wasn't among the force's top choices for the position; many of the pedigreed detectives with the homicide or holdup squads had said no. Still, he took his job seriously, and he was prepared to follow the truth regardless of where it took him, as Fantino had implored STF investigators to do at their orientation meetings. During his three years with the STF, Cassells discovered that the truth wasn't always welcome.
While investigating the Christopher Quigley case, Cassells decided that the man's injuries had been significant enough to have merited the involvement of the Special Investigations Unit, the independent body that probes all serious injuries possibly caused by use of force by the police. When word of his plans to call in the SIU reached his commanders in the Toronto Police Service, however, Cassells says he was told to leave the SIU out of it. Cassells then pushed for Police Services Act charges against the two officers at 53 Division who didn't investigate Quigley's injuries. Once again, his proposal was dismissed.
Cassells and the other investigators' morale was dampened further when a detective from another drug squad was charged with trafficking cocaine but was able to keep his job after he pleaded guilty to possession. This decision prompted John North, the senior federal prosecutor who handled the case, to send a despondent e-mail to John Neily. "As a result of my involvement with this case, " North wrote, "I have, with regret, completely lost faith in the ability and/or willingness of the Toronto police to police itself."
What Cassells began to realize was that by bringing in John Neily from the RCMP to lead the STF, the public was left with the impression that an outside force was independently probing corruption within the Toronto police. This wasn't the case. The Toronto force controlled the purse strings and provided the investigation's staff. Cassells believed Fantino was calling the shots in a number of important ways. He recalls how, in one such instance, Fantino, under pressure from the police union, postponed an interview with a drug squad officer the STF was expecting to provide helpful testimony.
Cassell's frustration continued long after he returned to regular duties. He wasn't given the desirable new assignment he felt had been part of the deal when he'd signed on for the unpopular task in 2001. He ended up back in uniform as a front-line supervisor at 22 Division, a job he was content with until Joyce Schertzer, also a sergeant, was transferred there.
In 2006, he complained to reporters about the STF's investigation. He called for a public inquiry, as well as an arm's-length review of how the Toronto police force investigated wrongdoing within its own ranks. Some credited Cassellls for his bravery - Edward Sapiano called him "Toronto's Serpico" - but those in control of his career were not so generous and charged him with misconduct.
Four days after an October 2007 hearing into Cassells' misconduct charges, his superiors informed him that he was being stripped of all supervisory duties. A month later, Cassells was assigned to a newly created position called "Planning Sergeant," a job with no desk and no assigned duties.
The Crown filed an appeal to Justice Nordheimer's decision in February 2008. At this point, however, they have yet to file documents that would be required to secure a court date. Legal sources say it would be another year before the appeal is heard. Whatever happens to the appeal, the Schertzer case will remain alive in the courts through a growing list of lawsuits.
In January 2003, about a year before the STF's criminal charges were laid, Schertzer and seven other former drug squad members filed a $116-million suit against Fantino, the Police Services Board, RCMP investigators and Justice Department officials, alleging, among other things, malicious prosecution and abuse of process. In their claim, Schertzer and his men depict themselves as the victims of both an organized smear campaign orchestrated by criminals and an overzealous police chief. The suit was an aggressive tactic, from the-best-defense-is-a-good-offence school. Whether they have the stomach to go through a difficult civil trial should they avoid one in criminal court remains to be seen. Since 2004, Schertzer and four of his co-accused have either resigned or retired from the Toronto police. Correira, however, is still with the force and was recently named to the board of the police union's Legal Assistance Plan.
Ten alleged robbery victims have also launched civil actions against the drug squad. These lawsuits claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Two were settled out of court. Those who settled were asked to sign confidentiality clauses. Sapiano wasn't impressed: "It's frightening that taxpayers' money was used to silence the victims of police malfeasance."
Christopher Quigley stopped selling pot years ago and is currently suing the police board, the chief of police, Schertzer and his squad for $950,000, alleging wrongful detention, assault and battery, fraud and negligence. "It's caused deep psychological wounds that I'm still dealing with," he says. "Every time I see a police officer or a police car, I am reminded of how horrified I am by what happened that day." Barring a settlement, his claim won't reach a courtroom until the criminal charges against the squad are resolved.
Even Schertzer's prosecutors are getting in on the action. Milan Rupic, along with his co-counsel on the case, Susan Reid and Joan Barrett, are suing the Toronto Star for $150,000 over an article it published in the aftermath of the Nordheimer decision that they claim pinned the blame for the trial's failure on them.
Dwarfing this is the $2-million libel suit that Joyce Schertzer filed against Cassells. Joyce was enraged that he'd made comments on a radio program about her being the subject of an internal investigation after she'd been cleared.
Cassells, of course, is contemplating legal action of his own. In February 2008, three months into his new position with no duties, he decided to retire (his misconduct charges were dropped after he left the force). He's still upset about how the Toronto Police Association, which offered significant support to Schertzer and his co-accused throughout their ordeal, provided him with little assistance when it came to fighting his treatment by management. If the union doesn't step in soon to help him "pursue his grievance of management abuses," an effort that could get him back with the force on more agreeable terms, Cassells' lawyer has threatened to add another lawsuit to the list, one that demands the union pay damages for its "unjustifiable failure to represent" his client.
Cassells says he's no longer concerned about whether or not Schertzer and his co-accused are ever tried before a jury. "Even if they were," he says, "what might it amount to? A few months in jail?" That's not what Cassells thinks this case is about.
"This whole story is really about the culture of the Toronto Police Service," Cassells says, "a culture that not only allowed behaviour the public would find disturbing, it actually nurtured it by dissuading its officers from shining a light on it. It was a systemic problem that's probably best compared to what the pathologist Charles Smith was allowed to get away with for years at the coroner's office. And just as we saw with that case, the path to the truth wasn't through internal investigations of the coroner's office. It's no different with the Toronto police force. This case is also crying out for a public inquiry."
If such an inquiry were ever held - and even John Neily, now retired from the RCMP, thinks one should be if the Crown's appeal fails - one of the witnesses it would likely hear from is David Eagleson, a former detective with the force's public complaints bureau who compiled 16 public complaints about Schertzer between 1992 and 1997. When Eagleson tried to warn Schertzer's superiors at the CFC drug squad, he was told to back off. Years later, in a statement to the STF, Eagleson called their behaviour "wilful blindness".
Wilful blindness also allowed complaints about Schertzer and his crew to roll in for years. It permitted Julian Fantino to believe that the Toronto police force was the best choice to run a complex investigation into a corruption scandal. And it may have prevented the prosecution from operating with an appropriate degree of urgency. Only time will tell if wilful blindness prevents the attorney general from launching a public inquiry to examine how the Toronto force polices itself and whether or not, in the wake of the Schertzer case, it should be allowed to do so in the future.
Derek Finkle has spent most of his career examining how law enforcement works. After graduating from Princeton University, he became Toronto Life magazine's first editorial intern in 1993, then went on to become a regular contributor to Saturday Night magazine and the Globe and Mail among other publications. In 1998, he made a splash with his first book, No Claim to Mercy, about Robert Baltovich, who was wrongfully convicted of his girlfriend's murder. The book won the Crime Writers’ Arthur Ellis Award for best non-fiction and Joyce Carol Oates, writing in The New York Review of Books, hailed Finkle’s book as “a model of investigative journalism, ambitiously & carefully researched, & in its conclusions, original & provocative.” Baltovich was finally acquitted of killing his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain, on April 22, 2008. In 2000, Finkle was hired as a contributing features editor at the weekly Saturday Night. From 2002 to 2007, he was the editor of Toro magazine, which garnered more than sixty National Magazine Award nominations, including Finkle’s gold for investigative reporting in 2005. Derek is also a founder of Canadian Writers Group. [Toronto Life (04/09); jeffarias.podbean.com (03/09)]
When I (Sarah Fulford, Toronto Life editor) asked Finkle where he developed his interest in writing about the police, he told me his stepfather was an OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) officer. "People assume, because of the reporting I do, that I'm a lefty wing nut who hates cops, but that isn't true," he said. "I watched my stepfather operate as a cop, and he was fair and gentle and kind-hearted." Seeing how much good an officer can do instilled in Finkle a profound sense of outrage at police who abuse their power.
Finkle has followed the Toronto drug squad story for years, and has been frustrated by the way the media has covered it. "The press was so focused on why the investigation failed," he said, "that they lost sight of the original allegations."
Just as novelists are self-publishing more and musicians are ditching record labels, it looks like magazine journalists may be making a move in a somewhat different direction, adding middlemen instead of doing away with them. As reported on both MastheadOnline and the Canadian Magazines blog, former Toro editor Derek Finkle has plans to launch a literary agency for freelance magazine writers. If the experiment is successful, it could change how writers interact with their clients (magazines) and affect relationships between writers and editors. More importantly, it might be the impetus to change long-frozen freelance rates. Most interestingly for editors, it could make the hunt for new talent, especially outside of one's city, much easier. Need a writer in Calgary to do a piece? Call up the agency instead of having to hunt one down yourself – plus, I would think, receive a guaranteed level of quality and professionalism. [dreamjobtk.blogspot.com]