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Local border guard receives award after helping launch an international criminal investigation

Ugo Bruni tells the story of how he caught a maker and distributer of child pornography and how that launched an investigation into an international criminal network
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2016 - 05 - 18 - Bruni  - Klassen-1
Border services officer Ugo Bruni received a Crime Stopper's Peace Officer of the Year Award at Algoma's Water Tower Inn & Suites on Thursday May 18, 2017. Bruni was selected for the award for his role in helping launch a wider investigation into an international child pornography ring. Jeff Klassen/SooToday

Local border services officer Ugo Bruni was just doing his job when he asked a few questions of a man crossing the border earlier this year, however, it just so happened that his line of questioning led to an arrest and launched an international child pornography investigation.

Thursday night, Bruni was awarded a Crime Stopper’s Peace Officer of the Year Award at an award's dinner at Algoma Water Tower Inn and Suites.

Bruni spoke with SooToday about how the arrest and investigation came about.

Around 10 p.m. on January 27, a man, driving alone, crossed the international border and pulled up to the border crossing booth manned by Bruni, who was just finishing up one of his shifts.

“He looked like a regular joe, talked like a regular fella,” said Bruni. “The story he gave me sounded legit – going to a couple of concerts in the Toronto area. People travel alone; I like travelling alone myself and I didn’t want to judge the fellow, but something just didn’t jive.”

Bruni started asking the man the types questions that he might ask anyone crossing the border

“I asked more questions and the more questions I asked the more things didn’t seem right. Sometimes things just don’t make sense. I may ask the same question a different way, and if he answers it a different way (then I get suspicious). I may ask the same question 4 or 5 questions later, but differently,” said Bruni adding that when he did that to this man “something just didn’t work out.”

Even though it was the end of his shift and he was sort of hoping to just go home, Bruni thought the contradictory answers were enough to hold the man’s identification and order him to pull over for further questioning.

“You can’t just say ‘Ah he did nothing, I’ll let him go’ you have to do your job, that’s what you’re getting paid for and people rely on you to do it eh?” said Bruni.

Inside the border station, immigration officers conducted a more in-depth inspection of the man and found he was a registered sex offender in California and Oklahoma.

This prompted investigators to look further and upon another more detailed inspection of a laptop and cellphone police say they discovered ‘multiple digital child exploitation images’.

Charges were laid by investigators with CBSA’s Criminal Investigation Unit and Sault Ste. Marie City Police Service.

A city police press release from January 31 said the the city’s Technological Crime arrested a man from California “for child pornography related offences”.

The case did not end there.

Investigators used the seized laptop to explore connections with other child pornography creators and distributors.

This has led to an international multi-agency child pornography investigation that potentially extends as far North America and Europe.

“This is just one of those great examples that the men and women don’t just protect the country as a whole but the men and women of Sault Ste. Marie as well," Kris Ruitenbeek, Canadian Border Service Agency chief of operations in Sault Ste. Marie.

Cases like this probably happen about once in a career said Ruitenbeek.

For Bruni, a 29-year border officer veteran who spent his entire career in Sault Ste. Marie, the case is illustrative of how the border officer job has changed over the years.

When he first started in 1989, border guards were basically ‘tax collectors’ he said.

At that time border guards couldn’t even arrest a drunk driver and he says they would have to come up with clever tricks to get them to wait for police to come and arrest them.

In 1999, changes to the Customs Act and the Criminal Code of Canada redefined border guards as ‘peace officers’ with the jurisdiction to investigate offences said Ruitenbeek.

Around 2006 border guards started getting trained in firearms and in 2014 Bruni himself started carrying a gun on duty.

“When I started in 1989 all we had was a date stamp on our belt. Now we’re equipped with pepper spray, a baton, and firearms. I never thought, when I began my career, that I’d be armed. Almost the whole staff now are armed officers,” said Bruni.

Bruni was quite humble at the awards ceremony and simply wanted the world to know how great the CBSA in the Sault are.

“Sure the recognition is cool, but I’m only here to acknowledge everyone else I work with,” he said.

Other Peace Officer of the Year Awards were issued to:

  • Deborah Trumble of Algoma Treatment and Remand Centre
  • Staff Sergeant Chris Kelly of Anishinabek Police Service
  • Conservation Officer Dave Hamlin of Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
  • Cpl. Alvin Tang of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Const. Darren Sirie of Sault Ste. Marie Police Service
  • Const. Monique Baker of Ontario Provincial Police
  • Const. Josh Teresinki of Sault Ste. Marie Police