Ex-RCMP director offered to leak information continuously in exchange for money, court records show

Cameron Ortis pleaded not guilty to six charges including four under the Security of Information Act for allegedly ‘intentionally and without authority’ sharing ‘special operational information’ in 2015

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OTTAWA — Former RCMP intelligence director Cameron Ortis allegedly promised to continue leaking sensitive information to a B.C. businessman under international investigation if he agreed to pay $20,000 for a first trove of classified documents, court records suggest.

The offer is described in a 507-page packet of documents that both the Crown and defence have agreed are factual and submitted in the trial of Ortis, who is charged with breaching Canada’s national secrets law.

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Emails prosecutors say were sent by Ortis suggest he exposed an undercover agent to gain the confidence of Vincent Ramos, the B.C. businessman to whom he wanted to sell secrets.

In an email, an anonymous sender prosecutors say was Ortis even went as far as suggesting changes Ramos could make to his business operation to dodge investigators in the future.

The documents shed light on what the Crown says are Ortis’ communications with the four individuals to whom he is accused of leaking classified information: Ramos, Salim Hanareh, Muhammad Ashraf and Farzam Mehdizadeh. Ortis’ lawyers have not weighed in on if Ortis sent the anonymous emails tabled as evidence Tuesday.

At the onset of his trial Tuesday, Ortis pleaded not guilty to six charges including four under the Security of Information Act (SOIA) for allegedly “intentionally and without authority” sharing “special operational information” in 2015.

The defence has not yet presented its case, but Ortis’ lawyers have said they will argue that he had the authority to do everything he did.

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Crown lawyer Judy Kliewer said documents show Ortis initially contacted Ramos, the former owner of B.C. firm Phantom Secure that sold modified Blackberry cellphones billed as unhackable, in February 2015 from an anonymous account. The first email promised “valuable” information that would detail a multi-agency investigation into Ramos’ company.

The message said that the sender had done so before with other clients.

“I have found that in the past the recipient of my initial contact email can be somewhat suspicious about who this is from and what this may mean. I assure you that this is a business proposition. Nothing more. It is not risk free, of course, but the risk to reward ratio will prove to be more than acceptable,” the sender wrote Ramos.

The crown says subsequent messages show Ortis was obsessed with securing his communications, sending multiple emails to Ramos imploring him to create a secure communication line and suggesting numerous options how to do so.

On the flip side, Ramos appeared slow to respond and skeptical of the anonymous email sender, who often had to follow up when Ramos failed to respond to messages. Ramos also repeatedly asked the anonymous emailer to reveal his true identity, which he declined.

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“I am in the business of acquiring hard-to-get information that individuals in unique high-risk businesses find valuable. I sell that information to them… Through the course of my normal discovery ops (some call this hacking, others cracking) I came across a number of documents that pertain to your current efforts,” the crown says Ortis wrote to Ramos on Feb. 7, 2015, while declining to identify himself.

In what appears to be an attempt to prove to Ramos that he held privileged information about him, his associate Kapil Judge and Phantom Secure, the anonymous sender wrote Ramos in March 2015 referencing someone “friendly” Judge may have met while at Vancouver International Airport.

“Distance yourself and Judge from the individual that he met at YVR,” prosecutors say Ortis wrote to Ramos, implicitly revealing the individual was likely law enforcement. Other court documents confirm the individual was an RCMP undercover officer.

Kliewer argued the emails reveal that Ortis provided Ramos not only with classified RCMP documents but also information from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), classified intelligence from foreign police and agencies and briefings provided to the Vancouver Police Department.

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The anonymous emailer’s pitch to Ramos was simple: pay me $20,000 in cash and I’ll provide you with classified police and security agency intelligence that will help you outpace authorities. At the time, U.S., Canadian and Australian police were extremely concerned with Phantom Secure’s activities.

To convince Ramos that he was serious and push him to create an encrypted email address, prosecutors say Ortis eventually sent him a sample of nine documents from the RCMP and FINTRAC related to Ramos, his associates and Phantom Secure on April 29, 2015.

“The unembargoed full documents will give you the information necessary to defeat this effort against Phantom Secure, and provide a clear understanding of how to begin thinking about how to continue your network’s growth safely in the future,” the anonymous emailer wrote Ramos.

Ramos created an encrypted email two weeks later and contacted Ortis, the Crown said. That’s when Ortis allegedly demanded $20,000 “in cash (firm)” for the complete documents as well as “additional information” he hadn’t previously disclosed.

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“I am in the process of aquiring (sic) additional information on various topics, some of which might be of use to you. If our first transaction works out, I will send a synopsis of this new info and you can decide if you would be interested in that as well,” the Crown says Ortis wrote Ramos.

“I am hoping that this first deal will be the start of a strong business relationship,” he allegedly added in a later email.

Retired RCMP Staff Sgt. Guy Belley was the officer who first discovered the anonymous emails Ramos on his computer after he was arrested in Bellingham, Wash., in 2018.

Testifying Wednesday, Belley told the court he was “shocked” to discover confidential RCMP documents in the hands of an alleged criminal (Ramos was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2019).

He said the information Ortis is alleged to have provided to Ramos at the time would have been very valuable to a company under international investigation.

“If I’m the CEO of a company, I would like to know what the police know about my operation,” he said.

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