HALIFAX—A former Mountie’s “remarkable fall from grace” has ended with a 10-year prison sentence.
Craig Robert Burnett, 51, spent more than 20 years with the RCMP, rising to the rank of staff sergeant and commander of a National Port Enforcement Team. He was sentenced in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Thursday after being found guilty this spring of stealing 10 kilograms of cocaine from a Halifax evidence locker between 2010 and 2011 and making $100,000 off its sale.
“This is a crime of greed — only greed,” Crown prosecutor Joseph Selvaratnam told the court Thursday during his submissions.
After a 21-day trial, Burnett was convicted on April 12 of theft of cocaine, trafficking of cocaine, laundering proceeds of a crime, fabrication of evidence, obstruction of an officer in the execution of duty and two counts of breach of trust.
In the sentencing decision from Justice James Chipman, Burnett’s charges were divided into three activities: theft of cocaine, trafficking cocaine and obstruction of justice. Chipman handed down a sentence of four years total for theft, six years total for trafficking and another four years total for obstruction of justice.
The 14-year total was adjusted to 10 years, which Burnett will spend in a minimum-security prison to protect him from what the judge called “risks” associated with being a former high-ranking RCMP officer in medium- to high-security institutions.
“This is a sad day because the court must pass sentence on a man who has had a remarkable fall from grace,” Chipman told the court in his decision. “I am of the view that Mr. Burnett’s moral responsibility is heightened as he decided to ignore the criminality of what he did.”
The courtroom was packed with Burnett’s family and friends during the sentencing hearing. Many left the room in tears and embraced in the courthouse following the decision.
“I have done good all my life,” Burnett said when given the chance to address the court. “This is a bump in the road.”
As part of the sentence, Burnett was ordered to forfeit a $17,000 BMW motorcycle purchased with proceeds from the cocaine sales, but Chipman denied a request from the Crown that Burnett pay a fine for the remaining amount he made.
Burnett was also required to provide a DNA sample and never own a firearm for the rest of his life.
Chipman’s decision was based on a number of submissions from both Crown and defence, including nine letters of character reference that describe Burnett’s contributions to his community, including his time spent as a volunteer basketball coach at local schools.
Defence attorney David Bright described Burnett’s crimes as a “one off” with “no great planning” that occurred when the divorced father of two was experiencing “significant financial problems.” During his submissions, Bright requested a sentence of four to seven years for all charges.
According to facts outlined in Chipman’s decision, Burnett took on the bulk of the debt after his divorce and reports no savings as well as debts of over $130,000. He retired from the force in 2016 and receives a $3,200 monthly pension from the RCMP.
Selvaratnam said the most significant concerns in Burnett’s case were the “breach of trust” associated with his leadership position in the RCMP and the fact that the 10 kilograms of stolen cocaine ended up back in the community.
During the trial, the court heard that the cocaine came from a seizure of 201 kilograms of the drug, kept in evidence lockers that Burnett would have had access to because of his rank with the force.
The Crown’s case against the former police officer relied on testimony from Scott Rowlings, a long-time friend of Burnett’s, and Michael Kanasevich, a mutual friend of the two. Rowlings and Kanasevich testified that Burnett had supplied the cocaine and given it to Rowlings, who then gave it to Kanasevich to sell.
Kanasevich first told the RCMP of Burnett’s theft in 2014. The two, and Rowlings, had been part of a cannabis start-up known as CannSource. The business deal had gone bad, and Kanasevich had felt ripped off, the court heard during the trial.
Both Burnett and Rowlings were put under investigation in Operation Handshake. Rowlings was later given immunity in exchange for testifying against Burnett, while Kanasevich was paid more than $150,000 for his testimony, the judge noted in his April verdict.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a Halifax-based journalist and a freelance contributor for Star Halifax. Follow her on Twitter: @jsrutgers