A probe into alleged criminal wrongdoing by Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) senior managers in connection with the use of an informant could affect a major drug case in this province.
Lawyers representing three men facing trafficking charges want to know if the informant used by police in their case was the same person who is at the heart of the investigation into RNC senior managers.
“We are not proceeding until we know if the source is the same source that’s been (spotlighted) in the media,” defence lawyer Randy Piercey said today when the drug case was called in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s.
Piercey represents Alex Prefontaine of Montreal, who faces charges of conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, marijuana and Phenacetin, a substance prohibited under the Food and Drug Act. Three co-accused are Charles Noftall of St. John’s, Rodney Noseworthy of Mount Pearl and Tan Tai Huynh, also of Montreal.
Prefontaine was in court today, along with Noftall and his lawyer Erin Breen, and Jack Lavers, who represents Noseworthy.
Huynh and his lawyer Stephen Orr were not present.
The four men — who are out on bail — were arrested in March 2013 after the St. John’s RCMP Drug Section executed a search warrant in the capital city.
Their cases were scheduled to be dealt with this week — two of them by way of a trial. However, Piercey, Lavers and Breen agreed to halt proceedings until the question of the informant is settled.
Piercey said much of the information obtained in their case — including evidence gained through wiretaps and search warrants — is believed to have been gathered with the help of a confidential source.
He and the other defence lawyers are concerned that the informant may be the same one, believed to have been committing crimes while helping RNC senior managers.
There were news media reports last week that the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) was called into this province two months ago to conduct an investigation relating to criminal wrongdoing by RNC senior members.
According to reports, the investigation involves the managers’ use of a criminal as an informant during a high-level investigation.
Apparently, the deal was that the informant would provide the RNC with key information about various cases. However, the informant allegedly continued to break the law. Senior managers apparently overlooked the crimes until the informant had to be taken into custody following two violent assaults.
Piercey told Justice William Goodridge that he’s asked the Crown to give assurances that this source is not the same one involved in their case.
However, prosecutor Robin Fowler said it’s not a relevant question.
“Our position is we shouldn’t even be put in this position,” Fowler said.
Lavers supports Piercey’s claim and told the judge there were 11 informants used in their case and a number of them are believed to have criminal records.
He said while it’s an RCMP file, there were three RNC officers — including one in the RNC drug unit — who took part in gathering evidence.
“It’s hitting all too close to home,” Lavers said. “It deserves our attention. There’s a lot of sharing information. We have to explore this.”
With the support of the other defence lawyers, Piercey said they will file a joint application to request information from the Crown regarding the informant.
A hearing has been scheduled for April 8 to argue the application.
The judge will first decide if the Crown should answer the question regarding the informant. If yes, the Crown must determine if it will answer the question.
Lavers suggested the application be made broader to include information about senior RNC managers involved in the investigation.
One thing at a time, Goodridge said. The judge said it’s best to file the application regarding the information about the informant first. If another application is needed after that, it can be filed after the decision on the first one is rendered.
Outside court, Breen said it’s unknown at this point what impact the issue of the informant in the RNC probe will have in drug cases in this province, but noted that almost every major drug operation involves the use of confidential sources. But she said she alone has between 10 and 15 drug cases which could potentially be affected.