A Superior Court Judge is seeking a stiff prison sentence in the unprecedented corruption case of a Hamilton police officer, who he says used his badge like it was an ATM.
“These offences are so grave, and the breaches of trust so egregious and repugnant, that they cry out for an extremely harsh sentence,” Justice Robert Clark said during sentencing proceedings on Wednesday for Detective-Constable Craig Ruthowsky.
Det.-Constable Ruthowsky, 44, a star investigator and 20-year veteran of the Hamilton Police Service, was found guilty last month of bribery, breach of trust, obstruction of justice and trafficking cocaine.
After five weeks of testimony, a jury found that the Guns and Gangs unit officer had accepted bribes from drug dealers – with one testifying that he paid $20,000 a month – in exchange for protection and information, even testing a drug-cutting agent on the dealer’s behalf so that he could get it in bulk for cheaper.
The trial shed light on a rogue police unit and a team that dismissed protocols as inefficient and outdated. Informants were kept off the books, and evidence and notes were kept haphazardly. Rules were bent, but they made busts. So Det.-Constable Ruthowsky’s boss – who was also his best friend – turned a blind eye.
In his sentencing submissions on Wednesday, prosecutor John Pollard proposed a prison sentence of 10 years. Det.-Constable Ruthowsky’s defence lawyer, Greg Lafontaine – who submitted more than 35 letters of support from friends and family – suggested a sentence of three to four years.
These offences are so grave, and the breaches of trust so egregious and repugnant, that they cry out for an extremely harsh sentence.— Justice Robert Clark
But Justice Clark made it clear that both suggestions were too light.
“It’s a scandalous amount of money that this man used his badge to generate,” Justice Clark said. “He used his badge as if it were a cash machine, an ATM.”
The case is unprecedented – “there has been nothing like this in Canada,” Mr. Pollard noted. “There’s really been nothing like this in the Commonwealth.”
The sentencing will resume May 29, when both sides return with revised submissions – a convenient delay for Det.-Constable Ruthowsky, who asked the judge for a postponement to attend his sons’ birthday celebrations this week.
In the meantime, the disgraced officer remains on the Hamilton Police payroll – despite having been suspended from the service since 2012. He was charged criminally that year, but the charges were stayed in 2013 because it was argued a trial risked identifying informants.
It was not until 2015 that these charges were laid by the Toronto Police, as part of a larger drug and gang investigation during which Det.-Constable Ruthowsky was overheard in a wiretapped phone call giving a drug dealer advice.
Throughout his trial, Det.-Constable Ruthowsky has remained out on bail. Justice Clark cautioned him on Wednesday that if he does not show up next week, he will be sentenced in absentia – and it will be harsh.
“It will cross your mind, no doubt, as it would cross anyone’s mind, that you have the opportunity here … to escape a very unpleasant outcome,” Justice Clark said. “[But] you of all people should know the arm of the law is a very long one – and you would eventually get caught.”
When asked if he had anything to say to the court, Det.-Constable Ruthowsky called the conviction “shocking” and “devastating,” adding that the case has destroyed both his own life, and the lives of his children.
“You were the author of that misfortune,” Justice Clark shot back. “You ruined your own life by taking bribes.”
After his sentencing, Det.-Constable Ruthowsky faces a preliminary inquiry this fall on another 16 charges laid against him last year. Among those allegations is that he conspired to plant guns – including a TEC-9 machine gun and a .380-calibre handgun – on two different people.