A judges secretary has been fired from her job and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice after reviewing a wiretap warrant – only to find her own fiancé was the target of a murder investigation and their home commune had been wiretapped.
Samantha Lewis’s case not only reveals efforts by Ottawa prosecutors to shield an investigation from within the walls of the Elgin Street courthouse, it also reveals new details about a homicide investigation in cold. That investigation has so far yielded no murder charges against a group of male detectives once believed to be responsible for two homicides in the city.
Ottawa Police homicide detectives started Project Game in February 2021, Crown Attorney Simon Heeney said in an Ottawa courtroom on June 15 this year, according to a court recording of the court proceedings. the day obtained by CBC News.
Heeney, an out-of-town prosecutor, was brought in to try the case because of “some of the players” involved, he told the court when identifying himself.
2 homicides the “main focus”
The project focused on unsolved historic homicides, with “the primary focus on two homicides in 2018,” Heeney said, both suspected by police to have been committed by the same group of people in Ottawa.
Ottawa Police publicly announced the project in April 2021 as a task force reviewing nearly two dozen unsolved homicides, just five days after obtaining judicial authorization to intercept the private communications of multiple targets, including a man Heeney identified in court as Yasin Mohamed.
No charges against Mohamed have been brought in connection with the project.
In 2014, in an unrelated case, he was charged with human trafficking offenses in Newmarket, Ontario.
A judge’s authorization to intercept private communications and violate any target’s constitutional rights is only valid for 60 days.
During those first 60 days, Heeney told the court, police determined that Samantha Lewis was Mohamed’s fiancee and that she worked in the Superior Court of Justice as a judicial secretary.
Protect the survey
A wiretap can only be authorized by a superior court judge and with Lewis working directly in those chambers, police and prosecutors had to find a way to protect their investigation.
Homicide Investigator Det. Chris Benson told Crown Attorney Brian Holowka about Lewis’s employment, her relationship to a target and that there was no information gathered by police to suggest she was involved in any criminal activity, said Heeney told the court.
Holowka then met with Judge Calum Macleod, a senior regional superior court judge, “to mitigate any compromise in the investigation” and to prevent Lewis from being exposed to the workings of the case, Heeney said.
The plan devised saw Assistant Crown Attorney Carl Lem telegraph Benson’s request to a specific judicial secretary who knew how to relay it directly to Judge Robert Smith, bypassing any manipulation by Lewis.
In June 2021, police requested a second lead for an additional 60 days. This time, police identified Lewis as an “other known person” whose communications could be intercepted because of his relationship to the target. It was granted.
On June 4, police made an “authorized secret entry” into the Muscari Street townhouse shared by Lewis and Mohamed and installed a listening device.
A hitch in the plans
Another 60 days were coming to an end when Justice Smith granted a third wiretap authorization on July 30. But an error in that order required police to correct a typo before returning the amended forms to Smith, Heeney told the court.
Prosecutor Carl Lem was unavailable to execute the plan to circumvent Lewis. The documents were turned over to another prosecutor, Mark Holmes, who was unaware of the complications in the case.
He went to the judges’ chambers at 12:40 p.m. on August 5, looked for someone at the counter, gave the envelope to a female employee and asked her to give it to Justice Smith.
The employee was Samantha Lewis.
The problem, however, was that there were two Justice Smiths in the Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa.
She needed to know where to deliver the envelope.
“The surveillance video revealed that Ms Lewis took the envelope and returned to her office, where she was observed removing the contents of the envelope, then quickly examining it, then putting the contents back. and out of view of the camera where she put it back as planned.”
The video evidence clearly shows that she viewed the cover page of the wire request for up to 60 seconds – but when she did, she saw her own name and that of her fiancé.
Heeney called the circumstances that led her to discover the police investigation “inadvertent and accidental”.
“You Get Me in Trouble”
It was what happened next that formed the basis of the charge that led to his conviction.
“Ms. Lewis was seen returning to her desk and texting on her cellphone,” Heeney said.
But the police had intercepted some of his communications. Monitors in the Ottawa Police communications room informed investigators that Lewis was sending messages suggesting she had seen the clearance.
At 2.18pm, Mohamed was caught on the wire telling another person whose identity was not revealed in court that Lewis had sent a message saying he had learned something wrong at work and that he should be home when she got there.
Following the exposure of the wiretap, the intercepted communications… have largely come to an end.– Simon Heeney, Prosecutor
At 4:28 p.m., Lewis came home from work and immediately asked Mohamed where his phone was and told him to turn it off.
The house, however, was already bugged.
As they left the townhouse, the last words were recorded: “What I’m about to tell you, I shouldn’t know this information…”
Hours later, the audio probe heard them fighting in the house, Heeney told the court.
“You’re giving me trouble and ruining my life and ruining everything I’ve worked for,” Lewis told her fiancé.
She told him he was destroying her life and family and was “taking her things and leaving”.
“I saw ‘Yasin Mohamed’ and my heart went out of my head,” she said on the audio recording.
“I saw my name,” she said, and the address on Muscari.
Police then intercepted Mohamed communicating with “other men”, informing them of the police investigation and the wire. Their identities were not revealed in court.
It was a very difficult situation and she reacted somewhat impulsively.– Michael Spratt, defense attorney
In the same month, after Lewis disclosed the wiretap, police appealed to the public for help in solving cold cases and only pointed out the evidentiary gaps in the murders of Tarek Dakhil and Yonis Barkhadle in 2018.
“After the wiretapping came to light, the intercepted communications … largely came to an end,” Heeney said.
“The homicides remain unsolved.”
Lewis did not release any substantial part of the investigation or advise Mohamed to destroy the evidence, Heeney said. But she also did not report what she had done to her superiors.
Arrested and charged
Police knew what was happening in real time, but arrested Lewis on September 10, 2021 and released her on a promise to appear.
A CBC reporter’s request for information – a public document held by the court that lists charges and allegations against a defendant – in Lewis’s case that was sent on April 29 this year has gone unanswered. by court staff for nearly two months. Unprompted, staff sent the requested information on June 27 – 12 days after Lewis pleaded guilty and the case was resolved.
I agree with what my lawyer said, the only thing I would like to say is that I’m so sorry.– Samantha Lewis
The resolution saw prosecutor Heeney and Lewis’ defense attorney Michael Spratt jointly apply for parole which would see Lewis spared a criminal record after a year on probation. A condition of her release is that she does not seek or maintain employment in the justice sector.
Lewis, now 30, was first hired by the Ministry of the Attorney General in 2018. She first worked as a court reporter, taking notes and recording court proceedings. Less than a year later, she became a judicial secretary, passing security clearance and taking an oath that she would not divulge any information she learned in the course of her duties. Lewis was working in the chambers of the judges of the Superior Court of Justice at the Ottawa courthouse in the spring and summer of 2021.
“This type of offense strikes at the heart of the administration of justice, but on the other hand, you have a young offender with no criminal record who accidentally walks in and sees her own name,” Heeney said.
Heeney said the wiretap had only made “modest progress” on cold cases at the time it was compromised.
Spratt told the court that his client had never been arrested or even arrested and had led a pro-social life.
The person you thought you knew was probably not the person you knew.– Judge Michael March
“It was a very difficult situation and she reacted somewhat impulsively,” Spratt said.
“She acknowledges… that she should have behaved differently and that she made an error in judgement.”
Lewis addressed the court directly: “I agree with what my lawyer said, the only thing I would like to say is that I’m so sorry.”
Ontario Court Judge Michael March accepted Lewis’ plea and joint submission on sentencing.
“I believe you when you express remorse. … You realized you were in over your head. The person you thought you knew probably wasn’t the person you knew,” he said.
“What level of involvement Mr. Mohamed was, if any, we will probably never know at this stage. It was pure coincidence that you were there to pick up that envelope from the Crown prosecutor that day. .”
It may be a lesson in life that you will take with you to the grave.-Judge Michael March
March said Lewis was likely shocked and alarmed, and his survival instinct kicked in.
“Human nature took over. And you did what you did. But you knew it was wrong. And it was criminal.”
Lewis also donated $500 to a collaborative justice program. Heeney withdrew a single count of breach of trust against Lewis after the plea.
“Maybe it’s a life lesson you’ll take with you to the grave,” March told her.
The Attorney General’s Department declined to comment on the matter or explain when Lewis was fired.
“The department does not comment on human resources matters, as all employment matters relating to current or former employees are confidential,” according to a statement from a spokesperson.
The homicides of Tarek Dakhil and Yonis Barkhadle remain unsolved.