WELLAND, Ont. - A former federal prosecutor charged with two counts of conspiracy and two counts of attempting to possess and launder the proceeds of crime will learn his fate next month following the submission of evidence in his retrial in Welland.
Jeffrey Root, 45, a Welland lawyer who handles mostly criminal and family cases, was originally charged back in 2004.
The latest proceedings began in the Superior Court of Justice in Welland late last month in front of Justice Harrison Arrell.
It was transferred to Brampton, Ont., for continuation on Oct. 27 because that’s where Arrell normally sits. At that time, the judge will hear submissions from defence lawyer Mark Evans and Crown attorney Jim Leising.
Root has pleaded not guilty to all four charges. He was charged in March 2004 with a number of offences, but a year later all of the charges were discharged after a preliminary hearing. The Crown then went for a direct indictment of the same charges, which meant the case went straight to trial.
Those proceedings were held in 2006 in front of Justice Linda Templeton, who found Root not guilty of five charges, including money laundering.
She ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him.
The Crown then appealed the judgment, after which the Court of Appeal sent the matter back for a new trial on four of the five counts.
During the latest proceedings, court heard from now-retired RCMP sergeant Ron Nicholson, who at the time was working undercover using the name Paul Cox. Nicholson, 60, spent the majority of his career on drug-related investigations.
According to testimony, he presented himself as someone who was looking to move substantial sums of money generated from the sale of cocaine and claimed to have partners who operated a trust company in southern Florida.
The company had some Canadian clients who wanted the proceeds of their business from trafficking in cocaine transferred offshore to a safe haven. Nicholson, posing as Cox, had come to Canada to ensure the transfers took place without a trace.
He was introduced to Root by former justice of the peace George Radojcic of Niagara Falls, Ont., who owned property there and was looking to sell it, court heard. Nicholson worked with an RCMP operative who assumed the name of James Kelly.
They rented the commercial property owned by Radojcic and set up a business called Shamrock EEzy Grow Hydroponics Ltd., which was a storefront enterprise that sold equipment for hydroponic grow operations.
Nicholson and Radojcic met on a number of occasions and discussed business, court heard. Some of those conversations were recorded by the RCMP and were presented as evidence.
According to the testimony, Nicholson made it clear to Radojcic, who was his landlord, that the money he was using to pay the rent had come from the sale of drugs.
“I held out to be a person who had funds that needed to be laundered,” Nicholson testified. Radojcic allegedly told him he knew a lawyer from a “blue chip” firm that might be interested in giving him advice and that he would help to set up a meeting.
Court heard that Root and Radojcic weren’t the focus of the police investigation that began in 2001. The police were actually investigating the Niagara chapter of the Hells Angels.
According to the testimony, Root knew a number of its members because he grew up in Welland, where some of them also lived and had established a clubhouse.
Court heard Root and Nicholson met on a number of occasions at a restaurant in Niagara Falls during which they allegedly discussed the laundering of money that had come from the sale of cocaine. Testifying in court, Nicholson said he had discussed moving about $200,000 a week and that Root was going to figure out a way to do it.
Nicholson also told court Root was interested in dealing with larger amounts. While a number of deals were allegedly discussed that ranged from $5 million to $25 million, no deal was ever struck.
“He wanted to make three moves with me and then he would do the freedom 55 thing,” Nicholson told court.
During one conversation, Root, who allegedly claimed he was working with two other partners, told Nicholson he knew they could get $10 million into a duffle or hockey bag, court heard. In turn, Root and his partners allegedly wanted to receive 25 per cent for their trouble.
Subsequently, Nicholson and Root didn’t meet for a period of time because the lawyer, in a separate matter, was facing extortion charges. As that case was going through the courts, Root didn’t want to bring too much attention to himself, court heard.
At the time, Root and two Niagara Falls brothers, John and Thomas Clute, were charged with assault, extortion, and conspiracy to commit extortion. The charges in that matter against Root were eventually dropped.
For his part, Root told court he had no intentions of ever going through with a money-laundering scheme but was only playing along with someone who pretended to be a big player with connections to people in the criminal world.
“I had no intention of money laundering,” he testified. “I was curious to see what he could offer me in the future in legitimate business.”
Root also said some of the things he told Nicholson were total fabrication. In addition, he denied having any other partners but claimed he said so in order to have a way out of the deal.
At the same time, Root said he didn’t know Nicholson was a police officer and told court he should have walked away when the offer was presented to him, something he has regretted not doing to this very day.
“Some members of the general public think I’ve done something wrong,” he said. “It costs me clients every time this comes up.”