Somebody else put fake cocaine in cruiser, officer testifies

From the Toronto Star Aug 20, 2009 02:11 PM
Bob Mitchell
Staff Reporter

A 14-year veteran Peel Police officer, accused of stealing 15 bricks of fake cocaine from a botched RCMP sting, insisted today that a senior officer put the product in his police cruiser.

Const. Sheldon Cook previously said he saw Det. Marty Rykhoff take a box of mangoes containing suspected cocaine from a courier truck and walk away with it on the night of Nov. 16, 2005.

He said Rykhoff later asked for the keys to his cruiser, which he gave him. Rykhoff didn’t have the box when he returned about 20 minutes later.

"There is no doubt in my mind he put it into my car," Cook testified today at his Brampton trial. "I can tell you this, I didn’t put it into my car and nobody else had access to it."

Cook, 40, has pleaded not guilty to seven criminal charges in this judge alone trial before Justice Casey Hill that has been under way since last November.

Federal prosecutors David Rowcliffe and Ania Weiler say Cook took the drugs, which they say he believed were real — not fake — during his involvement as part of Rykhoff’s crew investigating the seizure of 102 bricks of suspected cocaine from a courier truck.

The white powder turned out to be flour, part of a mistake-filled RCMP controlled delivery from Peru to Canada that went missing 12 hours earlier after arriving at Pearson International Airport.

Rykhoff denied putting the packages in Cook’s cruiser or having any knowledge that Cook took them home, or having told him to take the packages to his home, when he testified as a Crown witness in February.

Cook discovered the packages in his cruiser’s trunk at the end of his shift in the early hours of Nov. 17.

Cook has maintained that Rykhoff and Act. Det. Warren Williams both were aware he took the fake drugs home with the intention of returning them to morality officers later that day.

Cook was among several officers, including Williams and Rykhoff, who unloaded boxes of rotting mangoes with hidden suspected bricks of cocaine from the delivery truck in Mississauga the night before.

He said Rykhoff took a box from the truck as they completed separating boxes with suspected drug packages from boxes with just mangoes.

"There is no doubt In my mind he took it off the truck and rolled the door down," Cook said.

Just before Rykhoff took the box, Cook said he (Rykhoff) talked about making some phone calls because he thought this might be a police-controlled delivery or a "dry run by the bad guys."

"He said he might know who is responsible," Cook said.

He later saw five boxes loaded from a CIB van to a morality van and never asked Rykhoff if the box he took was in that load.

"At the time, I had absolutely no reason to believe there was anything untoward going on with the boxes," Cook said.

Cook never got the chance to return the product as planned because his children had a day off from school on Nov. 18, court heard.

He returned to his Cambridge home about 6:25 a.m. that day because his shift extended into the morning. He said Williams told him not to bring the packages back until the afternoon morality shift started. Williams denied saying this when he testified in February.

Cook, instead, decided to grab the dummy drugs from his garage when he got home and head back to morality and then return to catch some sleep.

But his wife told him he couldn’t. Their two young children needed to be taken to a baby sitter because they had a P.A. day and she was on her way to work.

He caught a few hours of sleep. But RCMP officers, some wearing bullet proof vests, stopped his car as he left his garage with his children about 11 a.m.

Cook’s in-laws lived in the basement of his home. He said they often watched the children but on this day his wife had made other arrangements and he didn’t question her.

"I had been up for 26 hours. My wife said I looked like hell," Cook said. "Once she told me about the P.A. day it made sense for me to catch a few hours of sleep and then take the packages back."

The RCMP tracked the make-believe drugs to his home using a GPS unit hidden among the packages that were found inside a compartment in a Sea-Do personal watercraft inside Cook’s garage.

The dummy drugs ended up in a compartment in his personal watercraft after the box broke when he was transferring it from cars in his garage, Cook testified.

The RCMP also found a small quantity of marijuana in a box in his garage. He said the box was the property of a tenant, who skipped out on renting a condo owned by his brother, who was storing the boxes in his garage.

Police also located 21 MP3 players at the home, which they said were among more than 400 allegedly stolen from an unrelated investigation.

Cook explained the MP3s belonged to his brother and were purchased at a flea market to give as gifts to his real estate clients.

Cook tried to get Williams and Rykhoff to tell Internal Affairs and a private investigator he hired as to how the fake cocaine ended up in his possession. But neither would because they feared they would be prosecuted or face Police Act charges, Cook said.

Rykhoff never showed up for work on Nov. 17. Instead, he went to Halifax with friends for a college football game, faking illness and phoning in sick.

Rykhoff was subsequently convicted of Police Act offences and docked five days pay. He was also suspended until mid-January 2006.

Cook is charged with attempt to possess a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking, possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, possession of stolen property (MP3 players) from a police investigation and breach of trust as a police officer.

He remains suspended with pay. The trial is continuing.

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