The Edmonton Journal
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
EDMONTON - Prominent Edmonton businessman Michael Ritter told the young staff of his trust company he was the victim of a conspiracy by police and the government -- and some of them believed it.
"I honestly believed the RCMP were out to get him because he had been very public with his criticism of the government in Alberta," Patrick Mitchell testified in provincial court Tuesday.
But Mitchell, a former employee at Newport Pacific and a close friend of Ritter, said he began to have serious doubts after he attended Ritter's bail hearing Sept. 9, 2005, and heard the case laid out by Crown prosecutor Greg Lepp.
Mitchell turned to the RCMP for answers.
"I just wanted to know what was true," Mitchell told the court. "I felt like I didn't know anything. Everything I had known for five or six years wasn't true."
Mitchell would eventually provide Sgt. Marjorie Maier of the RCMP commercial crime unit with a printout of a passport from Belize in the name of Adam d'Orleans, which contained Ritter's photo. The printout became instrumental in helping the RCMP secure a search warrant to seize Ritter's computer and charge the former chief parliamentary counsel of the Alberta legislature with breach of recognizance. A judge had earlier ordered Ritter to turn in all his passports and to not obtain any more.
Mitchell is one of the main witnesses in Ritter's trial on that charge, which carries a penalty upon conviction of up to two years in jail.
It's one of a string of sensational charges Ritter faces. In Canada, he faces several charges related to his alleged role in laundering $43 million US stolen from a brokerage firm by a Wall Street energy trader. The United States is seeking Ritter's extradition for his role in a $250-million US Ponzi scheme, in which money from later investors is used to pay earlier ones.
The energy trader and the California men involved in the Ponzi scheme have all pleaded guilty.
Ritter has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him and continues to contend he is the innocent victim of a conspiracy. By agreement with his lawyer, he was arrested by the RCMP at the Edmonton courthouse on Sept. 9, 2005.
On Sept. 12, a judge denied him bail after it was revealed he had not, as ordered by a previous judge, surrendered all his passports.
The first two days of Ritter's breach of recognizance trial, which began Monday, have been taken up by legal arguments over whether the RCMP breached the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms during its investigations.
Ritter's lawyer, Robbie Davidson, tried to establish that Mitchell went beyond being an informant to the police and had become an agent, gathering information -- most specifically the passport printout -- with the tacit approval and inferred direction of the police.
But on Tuesday, Judge Bruce Frazier rejected that argument, saying there wasn't a "scintilla" of evidence that Mitchell was induced to act as an agent of the police.
Frazier said to the contrary, Maier acted "properly and prudently" by suggesting to Mitchell that he stay as far away as possible from Ritter and his supporters.
Davidson is also trying to establish that the RCMP breached Ritter's right to solicitor-client privilege. Many of his questions to Mitchell dealt with who on Ritter's staff were lawyers and when they worked at Newport Pacific.
Mitchell and another witness also testified that all the company's computers were affixed with labels that warned the hard drives were subject to solicitor-client privilege.
Davidson also questioned Mitchell extensively about whether he had Ritter's permission to access his computer after his boss was in jail.
Mitchell testified he and other employees routinely accessed Ritter's computer.
But he conceded he had no permission to open the files containing a Belizean passport application and later the image of the Belizean passport.
Mitchell said he found the passport application file while deleting his own personal files from the computer.
"I said, 'Oh my God,' " Mitchell told the court, adding that two other employees, hearing his exclamation, came over and saw the application.
Mitchell said he then began to worry he might be charged with obstruction of justice if he didn't tell the RCMP what he had discovered.
He said he went back to the computer and opened what he thought was the passport application file. Instead, he found the file that contained the scanned image of the Belizean passport under Ritter's assumed name of d'Orleans.
"I printed it off and gave it to Marjorie Maier," Mitchell told the court.
The trial continues today.