Fall from grace - Page 4
- Subtitle: Cover Story
On May 8, 2003, Lewis met with Shoniker and the sting was underway. Over the course of several meetings, Shoniker boasted about his stature in the community and his ability to help Lewis. He remarked at one point that a native man worked for him and could transport banker boxes of cash. “I can give you an Indian who runs money who will take the fucking fall,” said Shoniker. On another occasion, he told Lewis that there was not a “fucking judge” in Toronto who would grant authorization to wiretap Shoniker’s phone lines, and that he was “untouchable, untouchable, untouchable by the police.” Shoniker said he could move $1 million weekly with no problem. Lewis, meanwhile, always made it clear the money he wanted laundered was stolen or the result of drug deals.
Shoniker managed to secure the release of the initial $250,000 and had it laundered. Lewis provided more cash to be cleansed, a total of $750,000, which the lawyer put through an American bank account that was controlled by the police. Shoniker even dragooned one of his former clients, an Iranian-born jeweller, to help him with the laundering. At one point, he pocketed $50,000 of the funds, claiming that he used the money to give to various people to grease the wheels in the scheme. Shoniker also asked a friend whose wife worked as a detective for the Toronto police to have her do a computer search on Lewis to find out more about him.
The sting drew to a close in December of 2003. Shoniker and the jeweller were arrested the following summer. They agreed to plead guilty and take their lumps. Last fall, Justice Cunningham gave Shoniker a 15-month sentence, which he served in Mimico correctional facility. He was released earlier this year and declined requests from Canadian Lawyer to speak about his life and case.
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There’s another side to Shoniker, though. His friends and family attest to his extraordinary generosity. During his plea hearing last year, 17 of them wrote glowing letters, many detailing his selfless acts of charity and kindness. There was Brent Burns, who said he, “lived in darkness and on the savage side of society” prior to meeting Shoniker in the early ’90s. A single father with three children, Burns was encouraged by Shoniker to attend university and eventually law school and become a barrister. “With Peter’s help I realized that I no longer had to live the way I did,” wrote Burns. Another letter, from plastic surgeon Dr. Lloyd Carlsen, said, “Mr. Shoniker has always been a beacon of integrity and human compassion for me and my family.”
In another instance, Erin Shoniker, his niece, wrote that when she developed an untreatable optic disease that leads to blindness, Shoniker was the first to notice the problem and attended every one of her medical appointments. Another family member said, “There is a bit of a standing joke in our family: if you have a problem, worry, or a sick friend or relative call 1-800-Shoniker.”
In the late ’80s, Shoniker and other prominent members of the justice system created the Canadian Abuse Prevention Foundation, which resulted in what is known as “Christopher’s Law,” designed to keep tabs on convicted sex offenders. He’s donated money to orphanages in Guyana, and was active in the Roman Catholic Church, which led him to meeting Pope John Paul II. He once defended MacKenzie for the grand sum of a loonie when MacKenzie was asked to appear before the Somalia Inquiry in the mid-’90s. “We weren’t begged or dragged to the courthouse to support a friend who had fallen on hard times,” says MacKenzie of his appearances at last year’s plea hearings.
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Was Shoniker, in the end, worth going after? Given his prominence in the legal community and his extensive contacts and network of friends in the justice system, as well as the history of some lawyers laundering cash for criminals, the RCMP felt they had no choice to see whether Shoniker was a money launderer.
But Ron Sandelli, who was a Toronto police officer for 37 years and has known Shoniker for three decades, sees it differently. “I didn’t think the investigation of Peter Shoniker was warranted,” he declares. “Peter was a blowhard and at that time in his career it was the downside for him. I hadn’t spoken to him for a long time. I think there were other influences like alcohol and other situations, and he was probably very hard up for a buck.”
Sandelli points out there was no evidence that Shoniker had ever laundered money before. “If you go after a drug trafficker and you do a sting on a drug trafficker, it’s because you have evidence to believe he is a drug trafficker but you just can’t catch him,” says Sandelli. “In this case, if you are telling me that Peter Shoniker is a loan shark or money launderer, that is not the case. Never was and never will be.”