Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Veteran police officer sidelined

On leave during probe involving Project Sideshow

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Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Rob Harding, who is not the officer placed on administrative leave, spoke at a news conference earlier this year that showed some of the items seized during Project Sideshow.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Rob Harding, who is not the officer placed on administrative leave, spoke at a news conference earlier this year that showed some of the items seized during Project Sideshow. Photo Store

A veteran Winnipeg police officer is under a legal microscope for his involvement in a high-profile gang-and-drug operation, the Free Press has learned.

The member of the organized-crime unit was recently placed on administrative leave with pay while the professional standards unit (PSU) continues an internal investigation surrounding the two-year Project Sideshow case.

No criminal charges have been laid. Sources say the file is complex and currently being reviewed by senior justice officials. No timeline for a decision has been established.

It's not clear what triggered the PSU investigation, such as a specific complaint or some other factor. Winnipeg police have refused official comment on the matter. They cited the fact Sideshow "is currently before the courts" -- even though none of the questions submitted by the Free Press surrounded the specific operation but were instead focused solely on the officer and his current status.

George Van Mackelberg, the vice-president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said Thursday his office is awaiting further information. He said it's not unusual in "sensitive" matters to send an officer home with pay while an internal review is ongoing.

"It's by no means a judgment of guilt," said Van Mackelberg. "It's in everyone's best interest to do a thorough investigation."

Sideshow is one of the largest, most elaborate undercover organized-crime investigations ever undertaken by Winnipeg police. Police arrested a total of 14 people earlier this year. All of them remain before the courts facing dozens of charges.

Investigators relied heavily on the use of judicially authorized warrants, which netted more than 300,000 intercepted communications and paved the way to breaking up alleged drug cells in Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia.

In total, police documented 92 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of $5 million, 3.5 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.

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.

Justice sources say defence lawyers representing Sideshow accused are now waiting to learn more about the internal police investigation to determine if it might impact how they proceed.

This isn't the first controversy surrounding this operation. Last month, the Free Press documented how questions were emerging about the evolution and execution of the investigation.

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 investigation.

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. 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.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2014 A3

History

Updated on Friday, May 23, 2014 at 12:45 PM CDT: Clarifies Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Rob Harding is not the officer placed on administrative leave in the photo cutline.

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