A Niagara Regional Police officer who pleaded guilty in the United States in a cross-border steroid smuggling case is now allowed to remain on the force and collect his pay, pending a sentencing hearing next year.
At a police disciplinary hearing Tuesday in St. Catharines, Ont., Const. Geoff Purdie appeared briefly but declined to enter a plea to internal police discipline charges of discreditable conduct and insubordination that ultimately could cost him his job.
Purdie pleaded guilty on Oct. 31 in a Buffalo court to the smuggling of thousands of dollars worth of anabolic steroids. He admitted to repeatedly driving across the Canada-U.S. border during the fall of 2011, picking up multiple packages of steroids, and then flashing his badge as he drove back into Canada past Customs officials. He has been suspended, collecting pay since his initial arrest in Buffalo in April.
The Niagara police disciplinary tribunal's prosecutor, Insp. Scott McLean, agreed to let Purdie remain on suspension collecting his salary until his criminal sentencing in Buffalo on Feb. 28, 2013, when Purdie faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a potential $500,000 fine.
"We are working within the guidelines of the Police Act," McLean told CBC News when asked why the service would continue to keep Purdie on the payroll given his guilty plea in the U.S.
Ontario's Police Services Act allows a police chief to suspend an officer with pay until the suspension is lifted or the proceedings against the officer are concluded.
McLean said that Niagara Police will not proceed, at least for now, with a full-blown disciplinary hearing and is instead awaiting the sentencing in the U.S., acknowledging that the police service could move quickly to fire Purdie if he is sentenced to prison and is unable to report for duty.
A second officer, Scott Heron, failed to appear at Tuesday's disciplinary proceeding, for what his legal counsel would only say was "a personal reason."
Heron faces internal discipline after he, Casey Langelaan, a recently retired officer, and civilian Bernie Pollino, all from the border community of Fort Erie, Ont., were charged criminally with running a cross-border cheese-smuggling ring that police alleged moved hundreds of thousands of dollars in cheap U.S mozzarella into Canada and resold it to pizzerias across the Niagara region.