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Canadian pilot who exposed Dominican Republic drug trafficking operation suing federal government, Pivot Airlines

A Canadian airline pilot who was detained in the Dominican Republic after he and his crew discovered more than 200 kilos of cocaine on board a flight to Toronto is seeking $16 million from the federal government and his former employer, Pivot Airlines.

A statement of claim, filed April 5 in Ontario Superior court, noted that Rob DiVenanzo continued to “suffer significant” physical, emotional and psychological harm stemming from what he had to endure while stranded in the Dominican Republic for nearly eight months in 2022.

“I’m never going to be the same,” said DiVenanzo, who is being represented by high-profile lawyer Marie Henein, of Henein Hutchison Robitaille LLP. “It’s changed me. I really feel like I’m not as happy as I used to be. I’ve made great strides in the time that I’ve been back, but I’m definitely different.”

Not long after they reported finding roughly $25 million in drugs on their charter plane, DiVenanzo and four other crew members were jailed for nine days before being released under house arrest in the Dominican Republic.

Under constant threat, they had to be moved to multiple safehouses and received around the clock armed security.

He and the crew got so desperate for help at one point several months in that they made a public plea to the prime minister for their release. Still, nothing happened.

Then, after more than seven months and days after a W5 team began asking questions while on the ground in the Dominican Republic, their case was mysteriously dropped and they were allowed to return home.

The claim cites numerous failures at all levels of government to protect and ensure his safety, noting the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs “did nearly nothing to secure Captain DiVenanzo’s prompt return to Canada.”

“If this could happen to five airline crew members, it could happen to any member of the public,” DiVenanzo said. “I think that the public needs to know that. And I think the public and myself, we need answers. What happened? What went wrong? Why were we put in that position, and why did we not receive any help from anyone other than [W5]?”

W5 reached out to Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly for comment but did not receive a response before deadline.

RCMP ‘put Canadian citizens at risk’

The statement of claim also alleged the RCMP “put Canadian citizens at risk in a foreign country and took no reasonable steps to warn Captain DiVenanzo or protect him from this considerable danger.”

A W5 investigation revealed that the RCMP knew about a potential cocaine shipment from the Dominican Republic to Toronto aboard a charter flight. The investigation also showed that the RCMP had been looking into at least two passengers on the chartered flights — with extensive ties to Alberta’s drug trade — months before the incident in the Dominican Republic.

The RCMP said it was not in a position to comment because the matter is before the courts.

‘No due diligence’

The filing also alleged his former employer, Pivot Airlines, was liable because it did “virtually no due diligence” to “ensure the safety of Pivot employees.”

This stems from the approximately $200,000 Pivot Airlines received from a person named John Strudwick, the chief financial officer (CFO) of a company called Trust Capital for a series of charter flights from Toronto to the Dominican Republic in early 2022. W5 later revealed that the company and CFO were fake, and the payments were being made by an Edmonton man.

The lawsuit noted that Pivot Airlines “knew or should have known that Trust Capital was a sham company that had chartered Pivot airplanes to smuggle drugs into Toronto … they knew that Captain DiVenanzo was at imminent risk of arrest, serious bodily harm, or worse.”

Pivot Airlines did not respond to W5’s request for comment by deadline.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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