An illegal gambling operation at a mansion in Markham, Ont., had armed guards, spa services for clients and may have supported human trafficking, police alleged Wednesday as they announced dozens of arrests related to the enterprise.
Twenty-nine people were charged and millions of dollars in cash and assets were seized in connection with what was taking place at the sprawling property, York Regional Police said.
“This was a large high-end operation. Gamblers had access to accommodation, spa treatments, high-end food and beverage services,” said Supt. Mike Slack, adding that contraband like braised shark fin and $1.5 million in top-shelf liquor and wine were also available.
“Human sex trafficking is also suspected and is also under investigation.”
Deputy Chief Brian Bigras said investigators spent months on the case – which was dubbed Operation End Game – before finally executing a search warrant with a tactical team on July 23.
Bigras said the operation was complicated by the presence of firearms and guard dogs, and a previous attempt at executing the warrant was called off after children were spotted at the property’s patio. The armed guards at the property also tried to intimidate officers during interactions leading up to the execution of their search warrant, police said.
Police said additional warrants have been executed at other gambling properties around the Greater Toronto Area as a result of the investigation, leading to more charges and arrests.
Some of those alleged gaming houses were lower-end venues that targeted people with gambling addictions, police said. Investigators alleged that operators provided users with methamphetamine so they could continue to gamble without having to sleep.
“We want people to avoid these illegal gaming houses … because they support the presence of organized crime in our community, and that threatens the safety of each and every one of us,” said Bigras.
Slack said there has been a noted uptick in illegal gambling activities during the COVID-19 pandemic as legal casinos had been closed for months as part of provincial efforts to fight the virus.
“As casinos closed … it opened up an opportunity for these extravagant locations to make a profit,” said Slack.
In total, police said 11 guns – including a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle – and more than $11.5 million dollars in cash, gaming supplies, alcohol and property were seized from the Markham mansion.
Thirty-three people have been charged with more than 70 counts, including alcohol and weapons charges, police said.
The force said it also launched a new project – dubbed Double Down – that aims to further clamp down on organized crime networks and prevent violence that could result from criminal activity.