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Crime pays provincial fund $1M

Cash to directly benefit victims, buy tech tools that aid police

Police lay out money seized under a Manitoba law that allows the province fo confiscate the proceeds of crime.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Police lay out money seized under a Manitoba law that allows the province fo confiscate the proceeds of crime.

Manitoba Justice officials describe it as a case where crime didn't pay — twice.

And that's just a small piece of the bizarre backstory of a massive seizure of cash during a traffic stop, money officials say will now directly benefit victims of crime and police efforts to curb it.

"Taking money away from the bad guys is just one of the tools we're using to make this province hostile territory for those who endanger public safety," Justice Minister Andrew Swan said Monday, touting how nearly $1 million of cash seized many years ago from alleged crooks will be added to the growing Criminal Property Forfeiture Fund.

The bulk of the bucks -- $735,000 -- came from a single Dec. 7, 2006 traffic stop. Two RCMP traffic officers pulled over a Chevy Malibu sedan near the Swan Lake Casino on the western outskirts of Portage Avenue. It had an "obscured" Alberta licence plate, court records obtained by the Free Press said.

A search of the car on the suspicion marijuana was inside led to the discovery of nearly $660,000 in a black nylon suitcase and more than $70,000 in a sleeping bag and backpack.

In all, there were 360 individual bundles of cash, largely made up of 34,882 individual $20 bills.

The RCMP tested random bundles of the money and found "extremely high levels of cocaine contamination," according to court records.

Interspersed with the bills were sheets of fabric softener, a tactic often employed by drug couriers and traffickers to throw police dogs off the scent of illicit substances.

Serial-number tracking led the RCMP to discover four bills in the pile were once used by Montreal police in covert drug buys.

The 40-year-old driver of the rented vehicle claimed to have no knowledge of the cash, but later claimed $250,000 of it was the proceeds of the sale of an Edmonton hip-hop clothing and accessories store to his passenger.

The passenger, a 49-year-old quadriplegic from Quebec, offered police several conflicting statements about where the money came from and the purpose of his trip from Alberta to Quebec, records show.

Police eventually learned some of the money came from a Dec. 5, 2006 hotel room theft in Medicine Hat, Alta. Most of it, however, was suspected to be linked to a large drug transaction with Montreal ties.

"This is a case where crime didn't pay -- twice," said Gord Schumacher, executive director of criminal justice for Manitoba.

The day after his arrest, the RCMP escorted the disabled passenger to the Grace Hospital where he received treatment for a catheter issue. At one point, he appeared to accidentally fall off the examination table and wind up halfway inside a supply room.

The next day, police were called when hospital staff found nearly $4,500 in that room, mysteriously stuffed in a rubber glove. It was added to the pile of evidence in the case.

All the cash was ceded to the province late last year after the criminal property forfeiture unit won a summary judgment from Court of Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin that it was the proceeds of crime.

It wasn't until about 2009 that the civil forfeiture process was up and running. That's why it took so long to claim the money, Schumacher said.

Both the passenger and driver are currently wanted in Manitoba after failing to show up in court to answer to their charges. Under the Manitoba-made law, provincial forfeiture cases are separate from criminal procedures and need a lower standard of proof than for a criminal conviction.

On Monday, police heralded the boost to the forfeiture fund. They can apply for grants from it to pay for training, new equipment and other crime-fighting initiatives.

"In order for the police to be more effective, we need to be more evidence-based," said Winnipeg Police Service Deputy Chief Dave Thorne.

Take the purchase of automated vehicle licence-plate readers, he said.

They assist a WPS strategy called data-driven accident crime tracking, where crime and traffic maps are overlaid and scrutinized to try deterring bad drivers and also catch criminals, Thorne explained.

Leveraging the technology allows police to save resources, as it lets an officer do in one hour what used to take up to 10, Thorne said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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