courts

Lead investigator testifies at trial of former RCMP officer accused of stealing drugs

Court hears investigation hinged on information from two informants, one to be paid $200K

RCMP Insp. David John Astephan testified Tuesday that information provided by two informants led to the arrest of former RCMP officer Craig Robert Burnett.

Burnett, 51, is accused of taking 10 kilograms of cocaine from an RCMP exhibit locker sometime between 2010 and 2011. He’s facing seven charges relating to drug theft, trafficking and obstruction of an investigation. His trial began Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

Astephan told the court that during the 2016 RCMP investigation Operation Handshake he arranged for paid informant, Michael Kanasevich, to contact Burnett and Scott Rowlings. In doing so, investigators hoped the pair would admit the theft in texts or wiretapped conversations.

“We didn’t intercept every communication and we became aware of that after we seized devices from Mr. Burnett and Mr. Rowlings,” said Astephan.

Burnett is alleged to have passed the cocaine to longtime acquaintance Rowlings to pass on to Kanasevich to sell.

Astephan told the court a letter of agreement was signed with Kanasevich on May 30, 2016. It was agreed Kanasevich would be paid $600 per week. At the end of court proceedings, Kanasevich will have received a total of $150,000, with an additional $50,000 for taxes.

Immunity

Astephan said Rowlings’ property was searched and that Rowlings was “rattled.” Due to lack of evidence, the focus of the investigation changed with Rowlings becoming the second informant.

“We pursued co-operation with Mr. Rowlings because, in the end, Mr. Burnett was more of a target of the investigation given that he was in a position of significant public trust,” Astephan said.

Rowlings was granted immunity and gave police information that led to Burnett’s arrest on Aug. 3, 2016.

Cross-examination

Defence lawyer David J. Bright questioned Astephan’s “fairly rapid rank progression,” the credibility of Kanasevich as a source and the extensiveness of the investigation.

“It’s not unusual for criminals to attempt to justify their existence when talking about a police officer being dirty,” Bright said.

In reply, Astephan said Kanasevich doesn’t have a record, but he “has a history of associating with people involved in criminal activity.” Astephan said Kanasevich admitted to being involved in selling cocaine, producing cannabis and trafficking cannabis.

Astephan said he didn’t know where the cocaine ended up.

“Mr. Kanasevich was very reluctant to discuss where he sold the drugs,” Astephan said.

‘Very good character’

Astephan noted Burnett’s “very good character” was supported by many people he spoke to during the investigation and that there were no other incidents under investigation.

“We weren’t on a fishing expedition to look on whether policy was followed in previous files or breached. We were looking really at the information we had here and what can we prove or disprove,” Astephan said.

The trial continues Wednesday.