RCMP had already spent close to a year taking a covert deep dive into the world of murder suspect Greg Fertuck when they created a fake contest at a Saskatoon liquor off-sale in the summer of 2018.
Officers had done "lifestyle surveillance" on Fertuck ever since his arrest and six-hour interrogation on Oct. 25, 2017. The 68-year-old former train engineer had emerged as the prime suspect in the disappearance of his estranged wife Sheree Fertuck, who was last seen on Dec. 7, 2015.
The 51-year-old mother of three had headed off to work at a gravel pit near Kenaston, Sask., and simply vanished. Her truck, jacket and cell phone were found at the pit the next day, but she has not been seen or heard from since.
Greg Fertuck admitted to police in the 2017 interrogation that he had been at the pit that day and investigators found a speck of Sheree's blood in the back of his truck. Although he had been arrested, he denied having anything to do with her disappearance and was released.
Five undercover officers have testified at Fertuck's first-degree murder trial, which is underway at Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatoon. The officers cannot be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban.
Their testimony revealed how officers set the elaborate trap that led to Fertuck making the damning disclosure — captured on hidden camera in a Saskatoon hotel room — that he shot Sheree twice at the gravel pit and then dumped her body in a stand of trees not far away.
This is how they sprung that trap.
RCMP tracked Fertuck after his 2017 arrest and release, building a dossier of his habits, day-to-day activities and associates.
"It's a fluid process," the officer who designed the sting testified. He is referred to as the "cover operator" and has worked undercover since 2004.
"It's not really a playbook, it can change with the circumstances. The object is to get the target to be comfortable telling the truth of what happened."
RCMP observed that Fertuck led a relatively quiet, structured life.
He drove a white Dodge Ram pickup truck and lived with his girlfriend, Doris Larocque, in a modest bungalow on Avenue O South in Saskatoon. He took daily trips to the liquor store at Confederation Mall, sometimes going there more than once. He also used the off-sale at Manos Restaurant.
Fertuck visited his mother in Saskatoon, and went grocery shopping and for walks with Doris. His hobbies included making lacquered walking sticks and fish bats.
The cover operator testified that the officers in Project Fisten ended up running 136 scenarios from August 2018 to June 2019. These scripted interactions were all designed to lead Fertuck into a meeting with the fake crime boss of a fictional criminal organization.
It was at that meeting where he would confess to killing Sheree.
The scenarios, as described by officers in court
Scenarios 1 to 5: Two undercover operators pose as market researchers for a liquor company. They set up a booth in the Manos off sale, which Fertuck frequented. They say that people who take part in the survey are entered in a draw with a first prize of an all-expense paid trip for two to Cancun, Mexico, and a second prize of a similar trip to Banff and Canmore, Alta.
Fertuck does not immediately enter the contest, but eventually fills out a survey.
Scenario 6: Fertuck is informed that he has won the Alberta trip.
"They are apparently both very happy that they won. I heard it on the live monitor," the cover operator testifies.
Scenario 8: The trip to Banff and Canmore begins on Sept. 13, 2018.
Fertuck and Doris Larocque are picked up by a cab in Calgary and introduced to another set of supposed contest winners from Alberta. They travel to Canmore for an evening social.
Fertuck is told that there are two other couples who won trips, one from Alberta and one from Manitoba. They include a father and daughter from Winnipeg. Fertuck doesn't know that they are all undercover police.
A Winnipeg officer is the "bump operator" in the sting, responsible for gaining Fertuck's trust and getting him interested in working for a fake company.
Scenario 12: The bump operator built a rapport with Fertuck during the Canmore trip by talking with him about fishing, hunting, woman and drinking. The trip ended with the operator saying his daughter is going to the University of Saskatchewan, so he travels to Saskatoon.
The daughter had cultivated a friendship with Fertuck's girlfriend. The four agree to get tickets for a Shooter Jennings concert.
On evening of the concert, they meet for dinner at the Shark Club in Saskatoon and Fertuck is introduced to the "primary operator," the officer designated to become his best friend in the fictitious criminal organization.
Fertuck is led to believe the bump operator's company is legitimate and the work involves picking up reconditioned cars and SUVs, and driving them to dealerships.
Fertuck asks for a job.
Scenario 13: Fertuck takes his first road trip with the bump and primary operators, from Saskatoon to North Battleford.
Scenario 14: They take another road trip. The primary operator later testifies that Fertuck told him during this trip about a recent violent encounter with a prostitute who tried to rob him. Fertuck claims that he curb-stomped her head and broke her arm, possibly killing her.
The undercover officer alerts Saskatoon Police. The allegation is investigated and there are no reports of such an assault.
It is not the last claim by Fertuck of violence against women.
Scenario 19: This is Oct. 16. Officers describe this as a "milestone moment," because it's where Fertuck is introduced to the criminal side of the fake organization.
The bump operator explains "both sides of the house" and offers Fertuck the chance to work on the criminal side. He tells Greg it does not involve drugs or violence, but is lucrative and safe.
Fertuck agrees to do the work. Court later hears secretly recorded audio of him imitating the Sgt. Schultz character from the 1960s TV series Hogan's Heroes, saying "I see nothing, I hear nothing."
Scenario 23: A new character is introduced. He is a gang member who had a drinking problem, but had gone to rehab and was able to stop and stay in the gang. This character is also shown to have issues with committing violence against women.
Scenarios 31 to 33: The officers often take Fertuck to Clark's Crossing pub on Saskatoon's west side. It's a bar he favours for its blue-collar ambience.
Over the course of three scenarios, the newly sober gang member falls off the wagon after picking up a woman (another undercover officer) at the bar. He misses an important work assignment and has a meeting with Fertuck, the bump operator and the primary operator.
The gang member is urged to "come clean" about what happened and, after doing so, is rewarded for his honesty by being allowed to stay in the gang without punishment.
The bump operator later testifies that this sequence of events is key to showing Fertuck that the gang prizes honesty.
Scenario 48: Fertuck is shown the extent of the gang's sophistication and influence at its Christmas party in Banff.
The character of "the cleaner" is introduced. This is a gang member who specializes in removing evidence from crime scenes and killing enemies of the gang. Fertuck is told that this member is in jail in British Columbia.
Scenario 49: On a road trip after the Christmas party, Fertuck tells the primary operator that he has a mistress in Saskatoon and that he wants to kill his mistress's boyfriend.
Police view this as a real risk, so they concoct a reason for Fertuck to stay in British Columbia until they can track down his target, who is known only by a racially charged nickname.
Scenario 54: Fertuck and the primary operator travel to the Kent Institution at Agassiz, B.C., to pick up "the cleaner" on his release.
This is designed to introduce Fertuck to a character who is comfortable with violence. It also buys police time to investigate Greg's threat against his mistress's boyfriend, because the gang members tell Fertuck that "the cleaner" will kill the man for him.
During this scenario Fertuck has a brief introductory meeting with "Mr. Big," the supposed leader of the gang, at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver.
Scenario 56: Fertuck agrees to stay in Vancouver over Christmas to safeguard a USB thumb drive containing sensitive gang information. He's instructed to stay in his hotel room.
On Christmas Eve, Fertuck gets drunk and smashes his head badly enough that he requires stitches. He tells the gang that someone tried to break into the room, but that he killed them and put their body in a dumpster.
Langley Police investigate and there is no body.
Scenarios 59 to 78: Fertuck returns to Saskatoon and, on Jan. 1, 2019, slips on a patch of ice outside Clark's Crossing bar and smashes the back of his head. He's eventually hospitalized for a month with a brain bleed.
The undercover police later testify that the sting went into "maintenance mode" as they assessed whether it could even continue.
Scenario 79: On Feb. 16, 2019, the bump operator meets with Fertuck at home and notes that he has quit drinking and his mobility is good. Fertuck knows the gang members, but forgets details about the work.
Police begin doing mini-memory tests (such as remembering two-digit locker numbers) to assess potential issues. They're unclear whether the memory issues relate to his heavy drinking, the blow to the head, or both.
Scenario 85: On March 13, Fertuck is back at work. The gang introduce a supposedly-corrupt Saskatoon Police officer who is in hock to the gang because of gambling debts. This officer tells the gang about police investigations and obtains tools such as DNA test kits.
Scenario 95: A member of the gang is supposed to prep a hotel room for a high-stakes poker game. Instead, he gets drunk and invites a woman to the room and the equipment is damaged.
Fertuck is at a meeting where the member has the chance to tell the truth. He is caught lying and kicked out of the gang.
The bump operator testifies that the scenario shows the importance of telling the truth, but also that people are not harmed when they leave.
Scenario 104: On April 16, Fertuck discloses to the primary operator during a road trip that he had something to do with his ex-wife Sheree's disappearance.
"I didn't get divorced a second time — she disappeared," Fertuck is heard saying on the secretly-recorded audio, laughing. "No, I'm not like [he names another gang member]. I'm worse. They don't find 'em."
The gang member Fertuck named was the "cleaner" used by the gang to get rid of crime-scene evidence.
Scenario 111: Fertuck is told that the gang is planning a major, annual high-stakes poker tourney in Montreal for July and that only a limited number of gang members are invited to work the tournament. It's suggested that individual gang members could earn as much as six figures.
Scenario 117: The "Alibi" scenario.
The sober gang member from scenarios 31 to 33, who had picked up the woman at the Saskatoon bar and fallen off the wagon, has now killed the woman. Fertuck is enlisted by the gang to help dispose of the evidence and construct the alibi.
Court later hears that the intent of the scenario is to show that the gang values honestly, and has power and influence. The scenario also features Fertuck and the primary operator meeting with the corrupt Saskatoon officer to obtain a DNA test kit that could be used to cover the gang member's tracks at the pretend crime scene.
Scenario 128: Fertuck is told by the primary operator that he's on the list for working the Montreal poker tournament and that his girlfriend Doris is also invited.
Scenario 132: On June 20, 2019. Saskatoon Police show up at Fertuck's house and park a cruiser out front. Fertuck sees the cruiser but leaves on gang-related business to North Battleford.
That trip is cancelled when the gang says they believe they are being followed by police.
Scenario 133: On June 21, 2019, Fertuck and the primary operator are to travel to Calgary. Just after clearing security at the Saskatoon airport, they are summoned back to a meeting with the crime boss at the James Hotel.
Fertuck meets with the crime boss. The meeting is secretly videotaped.
Fertuck is told that the Montreal tournament is on hold because the crime boss has had information leaked that police are on the verge of arresting Fertuck for his wife's murder. Like with the earlier "alibi scenario," the crime boss says "the cleaner" can help dispose of the evidence if Greg reveals everything about what happened to his wife.
Fertuck explains how he shot his wife twice during an argument at the gravel pit, then acts it out using his walking stick as a prop rifle.
Scenario 134: Fertuck and three undercover officers drive to the gravel pit, where Fertuck again re-enacts how he says he shot Sheree. They then drive north and east along grid roads to where he says he hid her body.
They cannot find Sheree's remains.
Scenario 136: On June 24, 2019, Fertuck and the undercover officers drive west of Highway 7 toward Biggar, Sask., trying to find where Fertuck said he had dumped the murder weapon, a Ruger 10/22 rifle. They cannot find it.
During the trip back to Saskatoon, their truck is pulled over on the city outskirts and Fertuck is arrested for Sheree's murder.
What happens next
Justice Richard Danyliuk is presiding over Fertuck's judge-alone trial. It began on Sept. 7 and is now in its eighth week.
The testimony of the undercover officers took place in a voir dire, or trial within a trial. Justice Danyliuk will now hear arguments from prosecutors Cory Bliss and Carla Dewar, and defence lawyers Morris Bodnar and Mike Nolin, on the admissibility of this evidence.
This is expected to happen within the coming weeks.