Original article no longer available
Mike McIntyre , Winnipeg Free Press
Published: Tuesday, December 18, 2007
WINNIPEG – It’s not the type of job you’ll find listed in the classified section.
But that hasn’t stopped a handful of Manitobans from trading in their “life experience” for an opportunity to work undercover as secret police agents.
Scotty “Taz” Robertson is the latest to find employment. The 49-year-old career biker hang-around has spent the past year infiltrating Hells Angels activities in a sting operation dubbed “Project Drill.”
The result was 18 arrests last week for a string of crimes, including drug and weapons trafficking, and even conspiracy to murder. Many of the alleged offences were caught on wiretap and through video surveillance made possible by Robertson.
While police are likely basking in the glow of their work, Robertson – identified in court documents and by justice sources as the man who helped police expose the criminal activities – probably isn’t popping the champagne. Recent history suggests he has a long and difficult road ahead of him.
He can expect every aspect of his life to be closely scrutinized by a team of defence lawyers who can’t wait to get him into court for cross-examination. He may find himself being maligned by the very Crown prosecutors whose case he helped build.
And Robertson might not want to get too comfortable, wherever he is. Double-crossing the world’s most notorious motorcycle gang means always having to watch your back and never getting settled.
The money he was paid will likely run out one day, but the anxiety caused by being a “marked man” will stay with him forever.
That’s no exaggeration, according to a pair of Manitoba men who’ve already walked a mile in Robertson’s shoes.
“I’m rich, all right. . . . My life is ruined,” Franco Atanasovic told the Winnipeg Free Press in an interview last year while he was under the Witness Protection Program with his two sons.
Atanasovic, 47, was paid $525,000 – roughly the same amount as Robertson – for a similar police project that ended 10 months ago with the arrests of 13 Hells Angels and associates.
Atanasovic conducted many undercover drug deals with key targets of “Project Defence” in a case that has already netted 10 convictions.
But the career criminal was in no mood to celebrate – especially after hearing his name repeatedly dragged through the mud in several courtrooms.
Atanasovic fumed that the Crown painted him as a liar and cheat, several disgruntled former associates filed lawsuits against him, seeking cash, and media reports likened him to the hoods he helped catch.
“Do you think I did a good thing or a bad thing?” he asked rhetorically.
Atanasovic has repeatedly battled bouts of depression and thoughts of suicide, according to his RCMP handlers who testified in court.
The public learned just how much of a target Atanasovic had become during the trial earlier this year for full-patch biker Ian Grant.
Heavily armed, camouflaged police officers swarmed the courthouse, sealing off all entrances and exits during the days when Atanasovic testified. A metal detector was installed at the door of the courthouse and plainclothes police with guns were inside the room.
In Kevin Sylvester’s case, his reward came in the form of freedom – not money – but that has done little to please the longtime Manitoba biker.
Sylvester, 44, seemed to hit rock bottom last December when he called the Free Press and went on a lengthy tirade about how his co-operation with police and prosecutors a few years earlier had ruined his life.
Sylvester made a similar call to a Crown attorney, which prompted police to pay him a personal visit. They pepper-sprayed and shocked him with a Taser when he tried to fight with officers and kicked one in the groin.
Sylvester blamed the ugly episode on taking too much antidepressant medication. He said he was angry with the way he has been treated since he struck a controversial plea bargain with the Crown in 2001.
Sylvester was sentenced to two years less a day in jail for his part in shooting and wounding Hells Angel Rod Sweeney in the head as he sat in his tow truck with his young son beside him. Sweeney survived the point-blank attack.
Sylvester became a wanted man and was the victim of several retaliatory incidents, including a firebombing of his house and a drive-by shooting attempt.
The Crown eventually offered Sylvester a reduced jail sentence in exchange for his testimony against two Hells Angels – including Sweeney’s brother, Dale – accused of trying to kill Sylvester.
Provincial court Judge Charles Newcombe said he was “holding his nose” at what many called a “deal with the devil.”
Sylvester told the Free Press police and justice officials made all sorts of financial promises to him that weren’t fulfilled. He claims his life is in constant danger now that he’s no longer in witness protection.