A Toronto police officer accused of working with a criminal organization in the tow truck industry also used his personal business in an insurance scam with a fellow officer, according to disciplinary tribunal proceedings and records released to CBC News.
Const. Ronald Joseph was charged with breach of trust and other offences last June amid a police investigation into the local towing industry. Joseph was named in disciplinary proceedings against another Toronto officer, who appeared via video link before a tribunal last month.
The tribunal heard that Const. Brian Smith filed a false insurance claim for more than $9,000 after reporting that he left a rented Mercedes unattended in January 2019, and returned to find the vehicle’s front end damaged.
The collision never happened, according to an agreed statement of facts from the disciplinary proceedings. Smith filed the claim because Joseph, who owned the business Renters Everything, asked him to.
Police said last year that a lengthy investigation of the local tow truck industry had revealed a criminal organization operating with police radios, including a unit Joseph allegedly stole for the group.
“The industry is rife with corruption,” Toronto Police Supt. Domenic Sinopoli said at a news conference in June.
Sinopoli said Joseph owned two tow trucks used by members of the organization. The officer was paid for tips on accident locations and the use of the trucks, and received referrals to the rental agency, Sinopoli said.
Smith’s lawyer David Butt said his client’s only benefit from the insurance scheme was a minor repair to a mirror on his personal vehicle, which he had brought to Joseph.
“Does that fit the definition of a crime? Sure,” said Butt. “Particularly in times of COVID, when we’re running at 20 per cent capacity in our criminal courts, do we want to tie the criminal courts up with those kinds of lower-end episodes?”
Smith gave a statement to police last September and pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct in December. A second disciplinary charge was withdrawn.
At a hearing last month, a senior police official accepted a penalty agreed on by the prosecution and defence, ordering that Smith be reduced in rank to fourth-class constable for six months, followed by 12 months at both third and second class. The rank reduction entails a significant pay cut.
Smith will be promoted back to first-class constable if he earns positive workplace evaluations.
Officer avoided criminal charge
The senior officer overseeing the proceedings wrote in a ruling that, “[Smith’s] behaviour has elements of a criminal offence.” Toronto police say the officer was not charged with a crime.
“Any information provided to us by Constable Smith was through a compelled statement. This can’t be [used] in a criminal matter but can be used for [Police Services Act] charges,” spokesperson Connie Osborne said in an email.
“Based on the evidence available to us at the time, it did not meet the criminal charge threshold.”
Osborne said Joseph has also not been criminally charged in connection with any of the events described during Smith’s disciplinary hearing.
Court records include allegations that Joseph used forged documents in an attempt to defraud TD Insurance of $16,000. Joseph is also accused of paying an insurance agent $500 to file a bogus claim, and counselling an insurance adjuster to commit forgery — in both cases, the insurance workers were undercover police.
“Constable Joseph is presumed innocent. He looks forward to dealing with these allegations in court,” defence lawyer Sam Goldstein said in an email.
Officers remain suspended
Osborne confirmed that five other officers remain suspended with pay in connection with the towing industry investigation.
CBC News first reported the suspensions last year.
Police refused to say whether the trucking investigation led to disciplinary charges against any other officers, and said the findings of any investigations could not be made public unless they went before a tribunal.