The former president of the Manitoba Hells Angels has launched a court battle against Crown prosecutors and police, alleging they leveraged faulty findings of a financial investigation and used other shady tactics to take away nearly $1 million of his legitimate assets.
Dale Sweeney, 43, is suing the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), the City of Winnipeg, RCMP and the attorney general, hoping to reclaim $850,000 in property he agreed to forfeit to the state as part of a plea arrangement for his role in a cocaine-trafficking ring.
While he's not seeking to redraw the bounds of his plea deal -- which has Sweeney currently serving 11 years in prison -- Sweeney and his civil-court lawyer allege the manner in which the deal was struck raises fundamental issues of fairness and could be considered possible extortion.
"How can the government justify taking any property that has nothing to do with criminal activity?" lawyer Stephan Thliveris told the Free Press Thursday. "It's like the Wild West out there. It's an array of unlawful seizures. It has to stop."
At issue in the lawsuit are select assets that were frozen and ultimately seized by justice officials after Sweeney's 2012 arrest in Project Flatlined, a Winnipeg police crackdown of a large dial-a-dealer operation.
They were ceded to the Crown under federal forfeiture provisions embedded within the Criminal Code, not under provincial criminal property forfeiture laws.
According to Sweeney's statement of claim in the Court of Queen's Bench, police undertook an investigation into his financial history and business interests as part of the Flatlined investigation around May 2012.
At the same time, another analysis was done to see if there were discrepancies between Sweeney's reported income and actual spending or revenues to locate cash or assets that were proceeds of crime, the lawsuit states.
A report was generated on July 11, 2012, saying a "preliminary overview" showed Sweeney had overspent his known sources of income by hundreds of thousands of dollars between 2007 and the end of 2011.
'How can the government justify taking any property that has nothing to do with criminal activity?'
The report contained "various qualifications" regarding the surplus, the lawsuit states.
Despite the report being "preliminary and deficient," the joint RCMP-Winnipeg Police Financial Integrity Unit was "adamant" to use it to further its investigation and prosecution of Sweeney, according to the claim.
Prosecutors, police and Sweeney's defence lawyer at the time didn't do any further review to see if the assets could be legitimately explained and he was denied access to the records used to generate the report, making it "difficult, if not an impossibility" to refute what it said, Sweeney alleges.
This "preliminary, deficient and qualified" report then was used by the Crown to "convince" Sweeney to go for the plea deal, according to the lawsuit.
Sweeney alleges a senior prosecutor "induced" him -- through what he says amounts to threats -- to take the deal or face losing everything under a legal provision allowing officials go back 10 years through his records and take any asset if he couldn't adequately explain how it was acquired.
"They threatened to take everything -- and I mean everything," said Thliveris.
The lawsuit says the Crown ought to have known it couldn't demonstrate any pattern of criminal activity, as required by the law, as Sweeney hadn't been arrested for more than 10 years.
Also, an oral arrangement was reached between Sweeney and the Crown in which it was agreed prosecutors wouldn't refer his or his family's files to the Canada Revenue Agency for an audit, the claim asserts.
Post-plea deal and conviction, however, an agent of the Crown "personally dropped off" the files at the CRA and an audit was triggered, Sweeney alleges.
Because of that process, however, it's now been confirmed "no proceeds of crime were present and/or intermingled" with the assets Sweeney is suing to reclaim -- his income accounts for them, Sweeney asserts.
The state stripping Sweeney of assets when it can't show they derived from proceeds of crime is a clear breach of his fundamental right against unreasonable search and seizure, the lawsuit charges.
The actions of police and the Crown amount to negligence, negligent misrepresentation and "civil conspiracy," Sweeney asserts. They showed a "reckless, wanton and egregious disregard" of this rights, he claims.
Thliveris said he expects the case may wind up before the Supreme Court of Canada. "We're not giving up," he said.