News / Toronto

TTC officer convicted in ticket scam faces new charges

Michael Schmidt, who was convicted in a fake ticket writing scam last year, has been charged with harassing a former colleague and driving while impaired.

Michael Schmidt, a former TTC officer convicted of writing fake tickets to homeless people, takes a break last week outside the downtown Toronto strip club where he now works. Schmidt is facing additional charges of criminal harassment stemming from an incident with a former co-worker last month as well as impaired driving.

Torstar News Service / Richard Lautens

Michael Schmidt, a former TTC officer convicted of writing fake tickets to homeless people, takes a break last week outside the downtown Toronto strip club where he now works. Schmidt is facing additional charges of criminal harassment stemming from an incident with a former co-worker last month as well as impaired driving.

A former TTC officer convicted in a fake ticket-writing scheme is facing additional charges for allegedly harassing a former colleague and, in a separate incident, allegedly driving while impaired, the Star has learned.

Michael Schmidt, 49, was convicted last June of obstructing justice and fabricating evidence for his role in a scam in which transit officers wrote fraudulent tickets to homeless people in order to make it appear the officers were working when they were not. Two other former officers were also convicted.

In December, six months after his conviction, Schmidt was charged by Toronto police with criminal harassment and mischief under $5,000. The alleged victim is Joe Costa, who worked in the TTC enforcement unit at the same time as Schmidt and who is still employed as a transit special constable.

On Jan. 8, a month after those charges, police arrested Schmidt in Barrie and charged him with impaired driving and operating a motor vehicle while his blood alcohol level exceeded 80 milligrams.

Schmidt’s lawyer declined to comment on the allegations, and Schmidt did not respond to a note left by the Star at the Barrie address listed as his home. He was not on shift Monday when the Star phoned the downtown strip club where he now works as a doorman.

According to court documents, Toronto police allege that on Dec. 10 Schmidt “engage(d) in threatening conduct directed at a member of (Costa’s) family,” which caused Costa to “reasonably fear for the safety” of the relative. The relative has been identified as Costa’s wife.

Police also allege Schmidt obstructed Costa’s lawful use of his cellphone, which led to the mischief charge. A Toronto police spokesperson said the allegations involve Costa being contacted via text message.

Schmidt surrendered to Toronto police Dec. 13 and was released after being charged, according to the spokesperson. Barrie police also released Schmidt after the impaired driving arrest.

He is due in Barrie and Toronto courtrooms on separate dates next week to address the charges.

James Bingham, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 5089, which represents about 90 TTC fare inspectors and special constables, said the union believes the harassment allegations against Schmidt may be related to the ticket scam case. Bingham didn’t provide further details.

He said the harassment charges against Schmidt were “completely isolated,” and there is no problem with workplace culture among TTC officers.

“The Toronto police have done a fantastic job of dealing with this swiftly,” Bingham said.

“We’ll continue to support our members in whatever way we can and whatever way we need to.”

Through the union, Costa declined to comment.

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TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said he couldn’t speak about the charges against Schmidt while they were before the courts.

Ross acknowledged that the fake ticket scam uncovered five years ago was “a low point,” but said the transit officers are under new leadership and are now “a very tight unit, supportive of one another at all levels.”

“The morale and culture in the unit today is extremely strong,” he said.

In a scandal that shook public confidence in the TTC, the transit agency fired Schmidt and seven other transit officers in early 2013 following a joint investigation by the transit agency and Toronto police. Five of the officers were charged, but two were acquitted last year.

At trial, a TTC inspector testified he used GPS tracking devices placed on the officers’ vehicles to determine they weren’t at work during times they claimed to have been writing tickets to people for supposedly committing offences such as loitering or panhandling on the transit system.

The investigation determined the officers were shopping or visiting friends at some of the times they claimed to have issued tickets on TTC property.

Some of the tickets were written to homeless people known to frequent the TTC. Because they had no knowledge the tickets had been issued in their name, some victims were convicted in absentia for not appearing to contest the fines.

Loitering and solicitation carry a fine of $195, and people who don’t pay may be subject to arrest.

Schmidt and the two other former transit cops convicted in the fake ticket scam are expected to be sentenced Feb. 21.

At a hearing earlier this month, the Crown asked the judge to give a one-year jail sentence to Schmidt, who as a TTC sergeant was the highest-ranking officer of those convicted and who had written the most fake tickets, according to evidence the court heard.

Schmidt’s lawyer Gary Clewley countered by suggesting the judge give Schmidt a conditional sentence with no jail time or allow him to serve his jail term intermittently, such as on weekends.

Clewley argued a lesser penalty was appropriate because Schmidt’s convictions in the ticket scheme were his first offences and prior to his arrest in 2013 “there were many occasions in which he served the TTC and the public in an admirable fashion.”

In 2001, Schmidt was credited with saving the life of a woman who was going to jump onto subway tracks, and in two other instances he apprehended men who had loaded firearms on the TTC, Clewley told the judge.

Clewley also raised the prospect that incarceration would be particularly difficult for Schmidt, who he said was on several medications after a serious heart attack last year. The lawyer also argued Schmidt is supporting his three children and avoiding a lengthy stay in jail would allow him to remain employed and continue to support his family.

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