Witness paid by police in drug sting says he may have killed two men

A police agent, paid more than $130,000 by the RCMP to help nab a cocaine dealer, testified in court that he may have killed two men and viciously attacked people to settle drug debts. The payout sheds light on the secretive world of police agents who can be used to catch criminals in undercover stings but often have a serious criminal past of their own.

Matthew Holland was used as a police agent during an undercover drug sting called E-Piracy that targeted Douglas Lawrence Ketch. Holland contacted Ketch, whom he knew from previous dealings, and spent 10 months communicating with him about buying drugs.

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A police agent is different from an informant in that he or she actively participates in the investigation under close police observation, instead of just providing intelligence to police. Unlike an informant, a police agent waives the right to keep their identity confidential, because they are required to testify in court.

Holland and Ketch met in the Costco parking lot in Langford on April 3, 2014, where Ketch handed over one kilogram of cocaine in exchange for $51,000 in cash. Immediately after the transaction, a police tactical team swarmed in and arrested Ketch.

Holland’s large payout and violent past were revealed during Ketch’s drug trial last month, which ended with a judge finding Ketch guilty of drug trafficking and drug possession.

Holland was paid $5,400 a month for 10 months, plus expenses, which included buying alcohol. He was also paid a lump sum of $77,500 because his work resulted in an arrest.

Crown prosecutors did not call Holland as a witness, which meant he was not entitled to an additional $77,500.

However, Ketch’s defence lawyer, Michael Mulligan, filed a subpoena which forced Holland to testify.

Mulligan tried to prove that Ketch sold the cocaine under duress after Holland implied he would hurt Ketch if he didn’t come up with the drugs. Mulligan said Holland had a financial incentive to pressure Ketch to sell the drugs.

“They offered this guy a reward greater than the yearly salary of an RCMP officer,” Mulligan told the Times Colonist in an interview.

The defence lawyer also argued that Ketch knew about Holland’s violent reputation and was led to believe that Holland was part of a criminal organization in Vancouver.

It was during Holland’s testimony on Oct. 17 that the revelations about two possible killings surfaced.

Mulligan asked Holland how many people he has killed.

“I assume it’s probably two,” Holland said, according to court transcripts. He said the events took place “20 something years ago.”

In one case, he said he severely beat a stranger who picked him up while he was hitchhiking on the Malahat. In the other case, he said he repeatedly stomped on a man’s head behind a nightclub in Courtenay after he saw the man hitting his girlfriend.

In both cases, Holland said the two men looked or seemed dead but he couldn’t be sure. Holland was never arrested or charged.

Holland’s testimony cannot be used against him, as evidence under oath can only be used in a prosecution for perjury or giving inconsistent evidence, Mulligan told the Times Colonist.

Holland testified that he earned his tough reputation by carrying out armed debt collection for other criminals. He would go to people’s homes, masked and armed with a firearm, and threaten them into paying money. Holland said he would pistol whip people into unconsciousness and then take the money from their home.

He testified that one beating was so severe, it left a man with permanent brain damage.

Holland said several years ago he chased Ketch with a machete after Ketch had come to his house to collect a drug debt.

Holland’s police handler, Const. Brooke Argue, testified that police were aware of Holland’s criminal background, which includes convictions for manslaughter, home invasion robberies, property crimes and drug offences.

Argue testified that Holland started as an informant but then entered into an agreement to be an agent after he provided intelligence about Ketch.

Cpl. Janelle Shoihet, spokeswoman for E Division RCMP, said the force has investigated the two beatings Holland spoke about under oath.

“Mr. Holland had already disclosed to police the same allegations he made on Oct. 17. I can confirm that those allegations were investigated, and that police were unable to find any corroborating evidence,” Shoihet said.

Kash Heed, former B.C. solicitor general and a retired police chief, said he’s concerned by the lack of oversight around police use of agents or informants.

“It is a deal with the devil because the [police agents] are generally people who have committed crimes previously or are committing crimes,” Heed said.

“The alarm bells have been raised before on the lack of accountability on this, and at the end of the day we have to look at these police practices and say, are they something that society will accept and are they ethical?” he said.

Heed said if police agents get paid only after an arrest, they might use any means necessary to make that happen. “If you’re getting paid by the RCMP, you’re expected to come up with results. You’re expected to come up with what is needed to put the final touches on the case,” he said.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which prosecutes federal crimes including drug cases, would not comment on the investigation’s reliance on a police agent and why it did not call Holland as a witness. A spokesperson sent a link to the Prosecution Service’s guidelines for police witnesses and police civilian agents, which state that Crown counsel must not call a witness who they reasonably believe will mislead the court with their testimony.

It’s unclear why the RCMP determined Ketch was high profile enough for such a costly investigation. The RCMP would not provide information on when police agents are used or how much they are typically paid.

Staff Sgt. Ike Isaksson, who heads the covert asset support team for B.C.’s anti-gang unit, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Team, said while he can’t comment on another agency’s investigation, police consider many factors before using a person as an informant or police agent.

“Many checks and balances are employed throughout the relationship with police and the investigation,” said Isaksson. “All investigations are significantly different from one another and all carry a myriad of complicated considerations.”

Mulligan echoed Heed’s concerns over the ethics of paying criminals to help in police investigations.

“If you asked people, ‘Do you think we should employ someone who is a killer and offer him this large amount of money to see if he can get a person to sell him drugs,’ I’m not sure members of the public would think that’s an appropriate use of resources,” he said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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