POLITICS

Ex-Montreal cop pleads guilty to gangsterism-related charge in Hells leak case

03/13/2014 10:38 EDT | Updated 05/13/2014 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - An ex-Montreal police investigator broke down in tears Thursday after pleading guilty to a charge of gangsterism for selling sensitive information to criminal bikers.

Benoit Roberge also pleaded guilty to a charge of breach of trust and said his dealings with now-deceased Hells Angels member Rene Charlebois were triggered by a threat to his family.

"I take full responsibility for my actions, which were committed under the influence of threats and blackmail from Rene Charlebois," a tearful Roberge told the court after entering the pleas.

Roberge, 50, is a former organized crime investigator who frequently testified as an expert on the Hells at their criminal trials.

The case centred around recordings of conversations between Charlebois and Roberge that surfaced after the biker committed suicide last Sept. 26. He'd been on the lam for 12 days from a minimum-security prison and took his own life as police moved in to capture him.

A third party, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, made police aware of the tapes and gave them certain information about the nine recordings.

"What's particular in the conversations is ... by the end, we get the impression that Charlebois is controlling Roberge like a source," said Crown prosecutor Maxime Chevalier.

Roberge was accused of selling sensitive operational information in exchange for cash. The court heard Thursday the amount was far less than the $500,000 amount previously reported in some media.

He collected about $125,000 — most of which was handed back to police after Roberge told them where to look.

The accused originally faced four charges — one of obstructing justice, one of breach of trust and two related to gangsterism. That was reduced to two charges Thursday.

The Crown contends the 28-year veteran of the Montreal police should have known better. The transgressions occurred between October 2012 and March 2013, according to the new charges.

"He knew full well what the Hells Angels were going to do with this information," said Chevalier. "It wasn't an impulsive or unique act."

The Crown said Roberge's impact on police investigations still resonates today. Chevalier said police forces — the RCMP, Quebec provincial police and Montreal police fight organized crime as a team — have been in damage control and have had to take "laborious and important" measures.

Chevalier noted that Roberge met with investigators last week in an effort to mitigate the damage. Police deemed his collaboration satisfactory.

The cost to taxpayers for Roberge's transgressions could be anywhere from $400,000 to more than $1 million, although the exact amount might be impossible to determine.

Meanwhile, Roberge's actions may dissuade some informants from coming forward, Chevalier noted.

Jean-Pascal Boucher, a spokesman for the Crown's office, said Roberge's guilty pleas help them because a trial would have hurt the image of the justice system.

Roberge's lawyer, Richard Perras, said his client had been threatened into the situation — the first time that aspect had been reported.

"It all started ... with a threat to Roberge's immediate family and Mr. Roberge had to make a decision during a conversation and he gave a piece of information at that time," Perras told the court.

"After that, he should have advised his superiors, but he didn't."

Thursday's guilty pleas mark an end to Roberge's lengthy law-enforcement career.

He had a good reputation, a clean record and the confidence of his superiors and his colleagues. He was involved in no fewer than 40 cases and testified across Quebec and even in Ontario and New Brunswick.

Roberge expressed his regrets to anyone his actions may have affected and lashed out at the principal witness, who he accused of giving contradictory statements about other officers being implicated.

"The main witness admitted having contradicted himself," Roberge said. "It has caused irreparable damage to me, my wife and my fellow officers."

His spouse, Nancy Potvin, is a Crown prosecutor who is involved in organized crime cases. She has been on leave since Roberge's arrest last fall but is not linked to her husband's illegal activities.

Roberge took the opportunity to send a message to other officers who may find themselves in a similar situation.

"My life is ruined," Roberge said. "My message to police officers: 'if you feel alone in the turmoil and the pressure, ask for help and trust in a better solution.'"

Crown and defence attorneys recommended a total sentence of eight years — four on the breach of trust charge and another four for acting on behalf of a criminal organization, the gangsterism charge. The terms would be served consecutively with no chance of parole until half the sentence is served.

The defence also asked that time served since his October 2013 arrest be considered to reduce that term.

Perras noted that finding a jail for Roberge has been difficult. His first month was spent in an infirmary because they weren't sure where to house him. Most recently, he's been in a high-security facility described by Perras as a "jail within a jail."

He waived his right in February to a preliminary hearing and, earlier, to a bail hearing. The Crown took into consideration that he pleaded guilty at the earliest possible juncture.

Quebec court Judge Robert Marchi will hand down the sentence April 4.

Roberge officially retired from the Montreal police last August. He worked for the province's tax agency but was fired after his arrest.