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Ex-cop gets eight years in Hells leak case

Ex-cop gets eight years in Hells leak caseBenoit Roberge, a former high-ranking organized crime investigator, is seen in court in Montreal on Thursday, October 10, 2013. Roberge was given an eight-year prison term on Friday for selling sensitive information to criminal bikers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike McLaughlin

MONTREAL - Benoit Roberge spent years cultivating and working organized crime sources before becoming a mole himself for the very people he investigated — the Hells Angels — in the twilight of his law-enforcement career.

On Friday, the ex-Montreal police officer was given an eight-year prison term for selling sensitive intelligence to criminal bikers in what a judge described as a betrayal of the justice system.

Quebec court Judge Robert Marchi agreed with a joint Crown-defence recommendation that Roberge be sentenced to four years each for breach of trust and gangsterism, with the two to be served consecutively.

Marchi said he considered the maximum sentence allowed by law —10 years — but decided the recommendation was reasonable.

The judge had harsh words for Roberge in handing down the sentence as the accused sat impassively in the prisoner's box.

Marchi said Roberge endangered lives and may have jeopardized ongoing criminal cases. And the judge believes a lust for money was at the heart of his premeditated betrayal.

"The accused, with his actions, ruined his own life, but, worse, and more sadly, that of his family," Marchi said. "He betrayed his family, he betrayed his friends, he betrayed the trust of his colleagues.

"He betrayed the justice system."

The biker with whom Roberge associated, Rene Charlebois, committed suicide last year after escaping from a minimum-security jail.

The exact nature of the information Roberge provided has been kept mostly under wraps because of its sensitive nature. What is known, however, is that what he passed along allowed 15 people to avoid arrest during a cocaine-importation investigation, including the presumed ringleader.

Some of those arrested after the fact admitted they'd been tipped off to a mass police sweep.

Marchi noted that Roberge's wife, Nancy Potvin, was a prosecutor in that file and one of his close friends was an investigator assigned to the case.

Until his arrest, Potvin worked on 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 also informed the Hells of two existing operations against them and offered Charlebois information on police techniques. As well, he sold information on three informants who were being used or were to be used in different cases.

"One can hardly imagine worse behaviour by a peace officer in whom the state had placed its trust," Marchi said.

The cost to taxpayers for Roberge's actions, as estimated by the Crown, could be as much as $1 million.

The former organized crime investigator knew what the biker gangs would do with the information. Roberge was frequently called to testify by the Crown as an expert on the Hells at their criminal trials.

With time already spent in detention, Roberge, 50, has seven years and three months left.

He must serve half of his sentence before being eligible for parole.

The Crown said Roberge sold information to the Hells, ultimately pocketing about $125,000 between October 2012 and March 2013. The money has mostly been returned to authorities and Roberge met with investigators in an attempt to mitigate the damage of his actions.

A tearful Roberge explained during his guilty plea last month that he'd been threatened into co-operating with the gang and had made a mistake by not reporting it to his superiors. He said the threat came in a single phone call and that he had mere moments to make a decision.

But Marchi said in his ruling he didn't put a lot of stock in Roberge's explanation, questioning how a seasoned organized crime investigator could so easily turn as well as continue to sell information over several months.

"He will live the rest of his life with the shame that accompanies such a mess," Marchi said. "An unspeakable mess for which he alone is responsible."

The case centred around recordings of conversations between Charlebois and Roberge that surfaced after the biker's 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.

Roberge was arrested in an elaborate sting operation by police as he tried to retrieve the recordings.

Roberge officially retired from the Montreal police last August after a 28-year career that, until his crime, featured a good reputation and clean record. He worked for the province's tax agency but was fired after his arrest.

Crown prosecutor Maxime Chevalier said he was satisfied with the sentence, which he added sent a strong message to peace officers that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated.

For his part, defence lawyer Richard Perras called the sentence severe but fair.

"It's a sad ending to a file, but a reasonable one," Perras said.

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