A Hamilton police officer and a champion bodybuilder are among 22 people arrested in relation to a multi-police-agency investigation that cracked a major methamphetamine and anabolic steroid ring that used local nutrition stores to deal the drugs.
Codenamed Project Newton, the 18-month Hamilton police-led investigation seized a staggering 26 kilograms of pure “crystal meth” with an estimated street value of more than $3 million.
Police also seized more than $1 million worth of anabolic steroids, along with cocaine, pot, ecstasy, ketamine, cash, luxury cars and a home in east Hamilton.
On Thursday, Hamilton police charged Constable Andrew Pauls, one of their own, with breach of trust for allegedly leaking secret police information to the main target in Project Newton. That man is Reiner Ruska, 34, of Hamilton, a well-known bodybuilder who owns and operates Herc’s Nutrition store on Upper James.
Ruska, his fiancée and his brother are among 21 people swept up in a series of predawn raids at 23 homes and businesses in Hamilton, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Haldimand County and Sudbury on Wednesday. They have been charged with a raft of drug trafficking, possession, and proceeds of crime offences.
“The charges flow from disturbing allegations of drug trafficking from local nutrition stores in the Hamilton, Halton and Niagara regions, in particular the constant trafficking of anabolic steroids,” Hamilton police acting Superintendent Dan Kinsella said.
The investigation, involving 175 officers from nine police agencies, started with a single tip to Hamilton police to take a closer look at an individual associated with a local nutrition store.
“The investigation penetrated and exposed the inner workings of a loose-knit group of individuals involved in the bodybuilding community,” Kinsella said Thursday.
Kinsella said police determined that “any quantity of cocaine, steroids and other designer drugs were easily accessible.
“More disturbing was a supply of crystal methamphetamine, a lab-produced drug which is extremely addictive.”
Twenty-one people were arrested as a result of the raids — nine from Hamilton, three from Burlington, two from Caledonia, two from Beamsville, and one each from Grimsby, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Mississauga and Sudbury. The charges range from conspiracy to traffic and possession for the purpose of trafficking anabolic steroids, methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana and ketamine to actual production of anabolic steroids, prohibited weapon and proceeds of crime.
Valued at more than $3 million on the street, the haul was “the largest single seizure of crystal methamphetamine outside of a (clandestine) lab setting in Canada.”
The busts also turned up over
$1 million in illegal anabolic steroids in both liquid and pill form that police say the group had been making themselves and were dealing through two Herc’s Nutrition stores in Hamilton and a Premier Nutrition store in Grimsby.
“Project Newton uncovered a network of individuals who worked together as an organized group conducting illegal activity throughout southern Ontario from Niagara Falls to the Greater Sudbury region,” said Kinsella.
Ruska won an Ontario heavyweight bodybuilding championship in 2007. An endorsement for an online weight-busting program identifies Ruska as the store owner of Herc’s. Other advertisements detail Ruska’s services as a personal trainer at Premier Nutrition in Grimsby.
Ruska’s brother Alex, 37, who operates Herc’s Nutrition on Centennial Parkway in Stoney Creek, was also charged in connection with the raid.
Both stores were open Thursday and employees said news of the raid hadn’t affected sales.
“Everybody was a little surprised,” said an employee working at the Centennial Parkway store who wouldn’t reveal her name. “But it’s business as usual.”
Ruska’s former wife, Lusiana Toste, said she was “in shock” over both the charges and the magnitude of the bust. “He makes some bad choices, but he has a good heart,” she said of her ex.
In addition to drugs, police seized $140,000 in cash, nine vehicles including luxury cars, and a small red-brick home on Craigroyston Road near Viscount Montgomery elementary school in Hamilton’s east end. Toste said Ruska’s 26-year-old fiancée, Carla Rao, lives in the seized home. She’s also facing charges.
On Craigroyston Road, neighbours described Rao and Ruska as a nice couple. Yet, they said the pair drew a lot of attention in the modest east-end neighbourhood with the upscale cars, including a Porsche, Ferrari and Hummer, that were often parked in the driveway.
On Thursday, police said Pauls had allegedly accessed confidential information from an internal police computer and passed the information on to Ruska at some point after Project Newton was started, but before he was suspended and charged for allegedly stealing drugs from the police evidence locker.
Police became aware of Pauls’s alleged information leak to Ruska after he was suspended, said Hamilton police Chief Glenn De Caire.
Last August, the nine-year police veteran, who is 32, was charged with two counts of theft of property valued under $5,000, one count of possession of property valued under $5,000, possession of drugs, and breach of trust.
Police allege Pauls stole Oxycocet tablets from a locked drug deposit box at police headquarters.
During Project Newton, “it came to the attention of the Hamilton police that a sworn officer had allegedly leaked information acquired from a police computer system to the main target of the ongoing investigation,” De Caire said Thursday. “There is no evidence that this officer is connected to the drug investigation.”
Project Newton involved police teams from Halton, Niagara, Peel, OPP, RCMP Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit and RCMP Drug Unit, Canada Border Services Agency, York and Waterloo.
Crystal meth has been sweeping North America generally from west to east. It’s a favourite drug in poorer parts of rural America, and west coast Canada has struggled with its proliferation. It was not as prevalent in Hamilton, where crack cocaine, prescription drugs and heroin are major street drugs.
“In our history here in Hamilton, it has been a drug that traditionally this city has not seen an awful lot of,” De Caire said. “This project solidifies the fact that the drug is well entrenched in the city of Hamilton.”
April 15, 2011