RCMP commercial crimes section criticized by judge

Published on January 27, 2016

Two of the biggest cases handled by the RCMP's commercial crime section in Newfoundland and Labrador, involving more than a decade of taxpayer-funded investigative work, have seen only a judge-ordered stay of proceedings.

The latest order includes clear and unanswered criticisms of the initial RCMP investigation.

That order was issued Monday in the so-called Myles-Legér case. The case involves charges of fraud against Bill Clarke, co-founder of the now-defunct real estate developer, and employee Terry Reardon, based on accusations of the mishandling of mortgage funds.

Defence lawyers issued a charter challenge, questioning the pre-trial timeline. Judge Jane Fitzpatrick responded with a stay, highlighting a lack of timely police work.

"The overall police investigation was handled with massive inattention that amounts, in my view, to negligence," she wrote in the decision, issued Monday.

Police investigators, in pre-trial testimony, attributed their slow-moving investigation to existing caseloads, challenges in document curation and staff turnover extending from senior officer retirements, Fitzpatrick said.

Criminal charges were not laid until 8 1/2 years after the start of the investigation - what the judge referred to as a "staggeringly long period of time."

More evidence still had to be collected, including some witness interviews, contributing to another three years pre-trial.

Jury selection was scheduled for Feb. 2.

In her decision, the judge quotes Staff Sgt. David Hickey, who said fraud investigations, "unlike a murder, unlike an assault or a crime against a person," were usually not as time sensitive.

He also said the RCMP was short the resources required to handle the case.

Work on the case overlapped in time with an investigation into Hickman Equipment.

That case was tied to the largest bankruptcy in the province's history and allegations that as many as 300 pieces of heavy duty equipment were sold out of trust. A complaint related to Hickman Equipment's books was made to police in January 2002, but charges laid only in 2012.

A stay was ordered in February 2015, also following a charter challenge. The decision was appealed.

The Crown now has roughly 30 days to consider an appeal in the Myles-Legér case.

"I find that the police knew exactly who was suspected and where to locate them. Likewise, evidence was known to them to exist and was, in my view, readily accessible. The police simply did not go about retrieving the evidence or witness statements in a timely fashion," Fitzpatrick stated in this week's ruling.

"Furthermore, there was no compelling evidence that this situation was a resource-based issue in my view. The RCMP is a large organization. The testimony of the officers involved does establish that they had significant workloads. That being said, there is no evidence that additional resources were unavailable or why such resources could not have been made available."

The RCMP has so far refused response.

"The RCMP is not in a position to comment further on this matter at this time as there is still an ongoing court process," stated an emailed responding to questions from The Telegram Tuesday.

The Telegram also received no response to questions on the cost to renovate RCMP headquarters in St. John's to hold files in the Hickman case, the number of officers now working commercial crimes and whether or not there are any other commercial crime cases outstanding involving five years or more of police investigation.