Suspended Hamilton cop Craig Ruthowsky outright denied taking any money from drug dealers in exchange for police protection on Wednesday, as he began testifying at the corruption trial into his conduct.
For weeks, the Crown has been mounting a case against the 17-year veteran of Hamilton police inside a Toronto courtroom. The 44-year-old is accused of selling police secrets and protection for $20,000 monthly payments from a cadre of drug dealers.
Court has heard that forensic accountants found Ruthowsky had over $130,000 of “unexplained income” moving in and out of his bank accounts over a four-and-a-half year period.
“Was any of that from people paying you bribes?” asked Ruthowsky’s lawyer, Greg Lafontaine.
“No,” Ruthowsky answered.
Ruthowsky has pleaded not guilty in Superior Court in Toronto to charges of bribery, attempting to obstruct justice, trafficking cocaine, criminal breach of trust, and conspiring to traffic marijuana.
I’ll be honest. It was very fun to attend a residence, smash a door and raid a house.– Craig Ruthowsky
He was caught on police wiretaps as part of a widespread Toronto police guns and gangs investigation dubbed “Project Pharaoh.”
In his opening statement to the jury, Lafontaine said his client “put his heart into his job” and worked hard — and in doing so, “on occasion may not have been completely in line with [police] policy.”
“He is not somebody who was a friend of organized crime,” Lafontaine said. “Craig Ruthowsky was a hard worker who was trying to do the right thing.”
‘I was very proactive’
During his testimony, Ruthowsky talked at length about his time with Hamilton police. He painted a picture of himself as an officer who was feverishly working — so much so that other officers would mock him for taking a patrol car out on his lunch breaks to look for criminals, he said.
Ruthowsky repeatedly talked about other cops wasting time on their shifts, but he said that wasn’t how he acted at all.
“There’s a real atmosphere of let’s slow everything down, let’s take our time, there were a lot of officers out there who were, in my opinion, very lazy,” he said.
“As a patrol officer I was very active, I was very proactive.”
As a witness, Ruthowsky often spoke to the jury directly, explaining police terms, looking them in the eyes, and referring to them on multiple occasions as “you guys.”
At the heart of the trial are accusations from the drug dealer who was allegedly paying off Ruthowsky. He can’t be named because of a publication ban.
Ruthowsky says the dealer was one of his informants, but the dealer denied that repeatedly during his testimony.
Ruthowsky said Hamilton police guidelines for registering informants were too impractical and cumbersome, and that was why his dealings with the drug dealer weren’t captured in his informant notebooks.
The dealer previously testified that his payments to Ruthowsky meant that he and his associates could roam free and sell drugs in Hamilton without having to look over their shoulders.
On Wednesday, Ruthowsky said that’s simply a case of “perceived benefit.” An informant might think they’re totally off the hook for any criminal acts, Ruthowsky said, but that’s not actually the case.
“They think they’ve got carte blanche within the city … but it’s with respect to very minor things,” he said.
Lafontaine asked Ruthowsky if he was in any kind of “corrupt relationship” with the drug dealers who have testified at the trial, each of whom alleged various improper dealings.
“I was in a typical informant/handler relationship with them,” he said.
At the outset of his testimony, Ruthowsky talked about his time searching for drugs in different units within Hamilton police. Pot grow-op busts didn’t really interest him though, he said. It was going after cocaine dealers that really got his blood pumping.
“I’ll be honest. It was very fun to attend a residence, smash a door and raid a house,” he testified.
He also talked about his list of confidential informants, which, according to Ruthowsky, was one of the largest in Hamilton police.
“I had probably triple the informants my fellow officers did … it became known in the service that Craig Ruthowsky was an informant guy.”
What Ruthowsky wasn’t, court heard, was diligent about bookkeeping in his side business — putting in swimming pools and selling equipment to fellow police officers.
Ruthowsky testified that he had a company called Aqua Heat Pools and Spas, which he ran on the side while still working as a police officer. He was paid “mostly cash” for those jobs. Lafontaine showed the jury dozens of examples paperwork related to the business Wednesday afternoon.
“I was not great at keeping records,” Ruthowsky said, testifying that the business got too big and “paperwork started to slide” while he was doing 60 hours a week in Hamilton police’s guns and gangs unit.
In 2010, the business was audited, Ruthowsky said. He then decided to close it down the next year.
Ruthowsky’s testimony continues Thursday morning.