|Former Peel police officer Sheldon Cook leaves Brampton Court yesterday. Cook was convicted in June of stealing 15 bricks of what he believed was cocaine. (Dave Thomas, QMI Agency)
BRAMPTON, Ont. - Somewhere in the GTA, some very fortunate cocaine smugglers are thanking their lucky stars.
The bad guys narrowly escaped an RCMP drug sting that instead ensnared at least one dirty Peel Region cop, with another two officers now suspended and under investigation.
The surprising revelation that Peel Regional Police Sgt. Marty Rykhoff and Const. Warren Williams are also facing possible criminal and Police Service Act charges related to the case came at the sentencing hearing for former Const. Sheldon Cook, convicted in June of stealing 15 bricks of what he believed was coke.
The Mounties didn't exactly get the men they were aiming for.
The local cops believed they'd stumbled onto a huge drug smuggling scheme in November 2006 when a frightened courier delivered his suspicious cargo to their doorstep.
The driver had panicked after a mysterious customer wanted him to deliver a truckload of mangoes from the airport to a dark and deserted yard with no loading dock. Instead, he took the load straight to police.
Finding bricks of white powder hidden under the fruit, Cook and the other cops believed they'd uncovered a massive cocaine shipment.
Instead, they'd unknowingly landed in the middle of Operation Ocaper, an RCMP sting that had intercepted 146 kilos of coke bound from Peru to Toronto and replaced it with bricks of phony drugs embedded with GPS tracking devices.
But instead of tracking the drugs to the GTA smugglers, imagine the Mounties' surprise when they not only got detoured to a Peel police station, but 44 of the 1-kilo bricks mysteriously disappeared after officers got their hands on the errant load.
Cook was arrested by the RCMP a few days later after the signal led them to his Cambridge garage, where 15 bricks of the phony coke were found hidden in his Sea-Doo.
Justice Casey Hill rejected Cook's contention he knew they were fake drugs and had been told to take them home for safekeeping, only to be framed later by his superiors, Williams and Rykhoff.
But on learning late last month from Crown prosecutors David Rowcliffe and Anya Weiler that their two key witnesses were now under police investigation themselves, Cook's lawyer, Patrick Ducharme, demanded a mistrial, or at the very least a reopening of the trial.
The judge refused both requests, saying that no matter what happens with the investigation into Williams and Rykhoff, it wouldn't affect his conclusion that Cook was also guilty.
Hill said he had been highly critical of both officers in his judgment and was very careful in what he believed of their testimony.
In fact, it was the judge's harsh words for both cops during his verdict in June that led to their suspension and the launch of an internal affairs investigation two days later.
"As shocking as it may be to many, in my view, the two principal Crown witnesses, both sworn police officers, must be treated as suspect or tainted witnesses," the judge had said in his 141-page decision.
He accused Williams of perjury, saying he lied to the court because of a "dangerous and warped code" of not snitching on a fellow officer.
The judge was even more scathing when it came to Rykhoff, saying he not only lied during his testimony but it was also "likely" that he "did remove" a box of the fake cocaine from the courier truck.
The judge noted that eight of the slit-open bricks were found in a dumpster 4.5 km from Rykhoff's home and that the Crown's submissions admitted it "was probable that Rykhoff was involved with the accused in skimming a number of bricks of suspected cocaine from the bad guy's load."
This is the same officer, court heard, who was docked five days pay for pretending to be sick when he was actually partying it up at a college football game in Halifax the day after he was involved in the "drug" seizure.
It all sounds like a page torn out of the old Keystone Kops comedies, except the only ones laughing are the lucky drug smugglers who didn't get stung.
Cook's sentencing hearing continues next month.