A veteran Winnipeg police officer was allegedly running an international luxury-vehicle scam that duped several victims, including a prominent city defence lawyer, out of thousands of dollars.
Justice sources and court documents reveal extensive details of the case, which came to light last year and only became public this week. The police have released limited information other than confirming Sgt. Richard Sierhuis is facing numerous fraud-related charges.
Sierhuis, 47, once worked with the Winnipeg Police Service's professional standards unit, the department that began investigating his conduct last fall and authorized his arrest in late March.
Most recently, he has been posted in the North End. He is now on administrative leave pending further review of his job status.
Sierhuis made his first court appearance Wednesday, also the day when police issued a news release announcing his arrest. The case has been adjourned until April 24 and Sierhuis remains free on bail. None of the allegations has been proven and he is presumed innocent.
Police have also arrested a 19-year-old co-accused on many of the offences. He is listed in court documents as a car salesman. The Free Press is not identifying him because some of his charges are youth-related, dating back to 2011 when he was 17.
Five victims came forward to police last year claiming they were ripped off trying to purchase high-end vehicles from Sierhuis, a noted local car enthusiast.
It's believed most, if not all, were responding to advertisements on Kijiji, a popular online sales website.
Sierhuis and the teen are accused of illegally importing the vehicles from the United States and altering them for resale in Canada. In some cases, the odometers were allegedly rolled back to make the cars appear newer. The vehicles did not have a safety check.
One of those customers was Roberta Campbell, a well-known Winnipeg lawyer, who purchased a Mercedes-Benz for about $25,000, sources said. Campbell had an independent check of the vehicle done and concluded she had been ripped off, as the car had been salvaged from the southern U.S. and was in much worse shape than stated.
She demanded her money back before going to police in November. By that time, police were already investigating several similar complaints against Sierhuis, sources said.
Campbell declined to speak about the case Thursday, saying she will wait for it to play out before the courts.
Sources said part of the case against Sierhuis involves a secret audio recording of a conversation between him and one of his customers regarding a disputed vehicle purchase.
In another case, Sierhuis is accused of passing off a 2006 Volvo as a 2010 model during an attempted transaction. That alleged offence occurred in September 2012 and led to a charge of "passing wares or services."
Sierhuis is charged with scamming Campbell and four other named complainants, along with Transport Canada, in offences that allegedly occurred between June and November 2012. He faces a total of seven counts of fraud over $5,000 related to those incidents.
The WPS professional standards unit is responsible for handling complaints against police department members, including complaints about employee conduct. Police said the alleged offences involving Sierhuis were "off-duty conduct."
Sierhuis was featured in a story in the Free Press Autos section in February 2012, which said he grew up as one of 13 soccer-playing kids in his family. The article detailed his restoration of a 1969 Chevelle SS 396 that he bought a decade ago because he and his wife were expecting and needed a bigger vehicle.
This isn't the first time this type of crime has been uncovered in Manitoba. Police arrested more than 30 people in 2009 as part of Project Rollback, in which dozens of used cars with high mileage were being purchased cheaply in Ontario, brought to Manitoba and altered to reflect greatly reduced odometer readings to increase their value.
The accused would then make phoney "sales" to each other, insure the vehicle at the increased price, then stage a series of accidents and thefts in order to cash in on the insurance.
Most of the accused in that case have pleaded guilty and been handed jail sentences and restitution orders totalling more than $200,000.