It is one of the largest, most elaborate undercover organized-crime investigations ever undertaken by Winnipeg police.
Now, questions are emerging about the evolution and execution of Project Sideshow, a Free Press investigation has revealed.
At the heart of the matter is how a longtime senior federal prosecutor who became a Court of Queen's Bench justice ended up overseeing tactics police used during the nearly two-year probe.
One of the cornerstone axioms of Canada's justice system is that "not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." And this is where Sideshow becomes potentially problematic.
Court records show Justice Chris Mainella authorized six different legal applications in Sideshow that allowed police to monitor the inner workings of their criminal targets. He began hearing these applications only three months after he left the federal prosecution service and was appointed to the bench.
All of these applications were overseen by prosecutor Judy Kliewer, a former colleague of Mainella's who was the assigned Crown "agent" in Sideshow. And one of the main targets of Sideshow was a man Mainella and Kliewer had previously prosecuted together in a similar drug-related case.
Ian Mahon, the chief federal prosecutor with the Manitoba region of the Prosecution Service of Canada, told the Free Press defence counsel involved in Sideshow has made inquiries about Mainella's role in overseeing the applications.
Mahon said his office can't speak on behalf of judges or disclose any information about the legal applications made before Mainella, who was just appointed last month to Manitoba's Court of Appeal.
"Our office, of course, does not instruct or dictate policies or practices to the courts in Manitoba. Given the nature of our prosecutions, it is quite common that Crowns have matters adjudicated by people appointed from a variety of backgrounds, including prosecution services," he said.
A justice source speculated the issue may result in years of protracted delays and legal applications that could impact the eventual outcome of the case, but declined to offer specifics.
Police arrested a total of 14 accused last month after the Sideshow investigation came to a close. Investigators relied heavily on the use of judicially authorized warrants, which netted more than 300,0000 intercepted communications and paved the way to breaking up alleged drug cells in Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia.
Here is what the Free Press has uncovered through publicly available court documents and transcripts:
-- Three men -- Baljinder Singh, Ronald Baldovi and his brother, Randy Baldovi, were arrested in February 2005 as part of a drug and money-laundering investigation by Winnipeg police. It's a case similar, albeit on a much smaller scale, to Project Sideshow. The central allegation was the same: Drugs were coming from Vancouver to Winnipeg and cash was going back in return.
-- Mainella, then a federal Crown attorney, and Kliewer were involved in the prosecution of Singh, whose case was linked to his co-accused, the Baldovi brothers.
-- Ronald Baldovi, now charged in Project Sideshow, had his charges stayed by the Crown in July 2007 -- the same day he appeared for the start of his preliminary hearing along with his brother Randy, Singh and another man. Randy Baldovi pleaded guilty that same day and was ultimately given a six-year prison sentence for production of crack cocaine and possession for the purpose of trafficking. Singh was ordered to stand trial. Mainella did not conduct the preliminary hearing or the sentencing for Randy Baldovi.
-- Singh, now suspected of being one of the top targets in Project Sideshow, eventually pleaded guilty to charges of possession of goods obtained by crime over $5,000, possession of cocaine and possession of a loaded restricted firearm. At sentencing in October 2009, Mainella was the Crown prosecutor.
-- Singh received a 30-month sentence. It's clear from a review of the court record Mainella knew the case well, as he provided extensive details, including the allegations against the Baldovi brothers. Mainella also offered a detailed explanation of why Ronald Baldovi's charges were stayed two years earlier and the sentence Randy Baldovi received.
-- The Project Sideshow investigation began in April 2012, when Mainella still worked in the Winnipeg office of the federal prosecution service. There were numerous targets identified by Winnipeg police, including Baljinder Singh and Ronald Baldovi. The Crown agent assigned to work on this project and represent police for the purpose of obtaining legal authorizations was Judy Kliewer from the Winnipeg office of the Prosecution Service of Canada.
-- Mainella was appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench in October 2012 when the ongoing Sideshow investigation was six months old.
-- In January 2013, Kliewer, as the Crown agent for the Sideshow case, made judicial application for what appears to be the key component of this case -- legal authorization to begin the monitoring of communication and movements involving Sideshow targets. These included intercepted texts, phone calls, video surveillance and sneak-and-peek warrants that allowed investigators to covertly observe alleged criminal activity.
-- Mainella, just three months into his role as a Queen's Bench justice, was the judge who authorized Kliewer's first application for the Sideshow wiretaps on Jan. 18, 2013. Such applications are made behind the scenes, rather than in open court, meaning the targets of the probe are not informed or given an opportunity to respond. The Crown, on behalf of the police, lays out the case it has so far and makes the request for legal authorization to obtain warrants. The applications are sealed and not available for public scrutiny. As a result, the Free Press is unable to say whether Ronald Baldovi or Singh are identified by name in the applications. Justice officials have also declined to answer that specific question, citing the sealing order.
-- Mainella then appears to have become "seized" of the matter, essentially taking full conduct. This is a common practice so as not to involve too many other judges for fear of contaminating a potential judicial pool when the matter goes to court.
-- As a result, Mainella granted five subsequent legal applications by Kliewer in 2013 -- on March 19, May 20, July 12, Aug. 30 and Sept. 30 -- according to Court of Queen's Bench records.
-- Court records show there was only one known Sideshow-related application heard by a judge other than Mainella. That occurred on Oct. 25, 2013 and involved Queen's Bench Justice Joan McKelvey. Justice officials wouldn't say why Mainella didn't hear this application, as he'd approved the previous six.
-- Justice officials also won't say how, or why, Mainella became the judge to oversee the legal applications or whether any concerns of a potential conflict were raised at any point, given his previous involvement in prosecuting Singh, and by virtue of that, having knowledge of Ronald Baldovi's prior case. However, Mainella is the only Queen's Bench justice -- out of a potential pool of more than 20 judges -- who participated in prosecuting a case involving Singh and Ronald Baldovi, two of the targets of the Sideshow investigation.
Earlier this month, Ronald Baldovi contacted a Free Press reporter from the Winnipeg Remand Centre to express concerns about the fairness of the case. This call prompted Free Press reporters to begin delving deeper into the investigation.
"We're upset by this," Baldovi said. It's important to note Baldovi is currently awaiting a decision on bail in provincial court. Submissions have been heard over two separate days this month and were the subject of a court-ordered publication ban. As a result, the Free Press is not able to make any reference to any materials, evidence or legal arguments presented during those hearings.
Singh declined a request to be interviewed from the Winnipeg Remand Centre.
The Free Press previously obtained an unsealed police overview of the Sideshow case through the provincial court. In total, police say they documented 92 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of $5 million, 31/2 kg of methamphetamine with a street value of $192,000, one kg of ecstasy with a street value of $20,000 and more than $4.3 million in cash believed to be from proceeds of drug sales throughout the Sideshow investigation.
The actual amounts of drugs and cash exchanged are believed to far exceed the amounts observed, police said. Officers were only able to seize a small amount of what they saw as they couldn't risk jeopardizing the investigation.
Where this case goes next isn't entirely clear. Several of the accused -- including Ronald Baldovi and Singh -- are now seeking access to the sealed information. Ronald Baldovi is among the first to apply for bail and no date has been set for a decision. It's possible others may follow his lead and seek judicial interim release.