When guests arrived at what Vancouver police have described as a “makeshift nightclub” inside a downtown penthouse apartment last month, they were told to remove their shoes to prevent making noise.
Exotic dancers were spinning on a stripper pole that ran from the second floor down to the first in the three-level suite. There was a DJ booth and bartenders making and serving drinks available for purchase. Spotlights and “mood lighting” gave the room the look of a club that would normally be packed in Yaletown or on the Granville Strip any given weekend before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
None of the 50 to 100 people “standing shoulder to shoulder” inside were wearing masks.
These and other details are included in a search warrant application filed in Vancouver Provincial Court early in the morning on Jan. 31, which was obtained by Global News on Wednesday.
The search warrant was ultimately granted that same morning for the unit on Richards Street — thanks in part to a large fast food order observed by officers, which helped serve as evidence that illegal gatherings were happening inside.
The warrant allowed police to shut down the penthouse party and escort several revellers out of the building in handcuffs for violating public health restrictions.
Vancouver police have said they found 78 maskless people inside the three-level condo unit. Cash tills, point-of-sale terminals and menus were also found, along with liquor — despite the operators not having a liquor licence.
The alleged ringleader of a series of parties there, Mohammad Movassaghi, spent the night in jail and was later charged with two counts of failure to comply with an order of a health officer.
According to the application, the woman who provided details about the party she was invited to on Jan. 23 told police she was “appalled” by what she saw inside and reported it to VPD.
When police attended the unit and knocked on the door that night, officers could hear someone inside say “shhhh,” which was then “repeated several times as if it was being passed along.”
A man wearing a protective vest — but not a face mask — and holding a counting device displaying the number 41 finally came outside and spoke to the officers.
Another person inside identified himself as Movassaghi and confirmed he was the owner of the apartment, but refused to come outside.
“I refuse any charge you have against me,” he allegedly told officers, and refused to open the door to be served with a violation ticket.
Over the month of January, Vancouver police received a total of half a dozen calls about a “loud party” with “at least 100 people” inside the Richards Street penthouse before they were allowed to obtain a search warrant, according to the application.
Some of those calls weren’t responded to at all by police, however, due to what the application says was a “lack of resources.”
The application was actually the second time police had tried to gain permission from a judge to enter the unit. The first attempt, based on the information gathered on Jan. 23, was rejected due to a lack of evidence that Movassaghi was inside the unit at that time that warrant would be served.
By then, police had already been alerted to the goings-on at the penthouse at least four other times beginning on Jan. 2, when a caller had complained to VPD about “loud music and party sounds” that had “been going on for a number of days,” according to the document.
Police were unable to attend that night “due to the volume of calls in the city,” the application reads.
The next day, police were able to respond to another call at the building, this time about a number of people “yelling and screaming” in the hallway. Officers were unable to enter the suite but confirmed people were in the hallway, though the application does not say if any arrests were made.
Police were also unable to respond to another call about partying inside the unit on Jan. 10, “due to lack of resources.”
A week later, on Jan. 17, officers attended the unit after receiving a call about a party in progress and “could hear a loud party with many distinctive voices inside,” the application reads.
“When police members knocked on the door all noises ceased and the occupants refused to come to the door,” it continues, adding no further action was taken.
Beyond the detailed complaint from the invited party guest, police on Jan. 23 also observed men on security camera wheeling a service cart between the unit and an elevator multiple times, along with other party guests coming and going.
Just after midnight on Jan. 30, it was the building’s concierge who made the complaint, telling police several people had been getting buzzed into the unit throughout the night. “Cheering, yelling, loud music and lots of voices” could be heard from inside the suite.
When police knocked on the door, officers “could hear the music shut down, people whispering and feet shuffling inside the suite.”
The application says Movassaghi, again refusing to open the door, identified himself and “appeared to read a prepared script written by a lawyer” directing police to send any violation notices or questions to Movassaghi’s attorney.
That same night, officers observed several people enter the Richards Street building and arrive at the penthouse. One officer later saw a final image that sealed the party pad’s fate: a delivery driver bringing 100 McDonald’s cheeseburgers to the unit.
Police then began preparing to apply for a search warrant.
Vancouver police say they have issued more than $17,000 in fines — $230 each for 77 people believed to be party guests.
Movassaghi is due to appear in court on Feb. 22 to face the public health act charges against him. His court-ordered release conditions state he must open the door for police, not host parties or hold alcohol inside the penthouse, and is allowed to only have one other person inside the unit with him at all times.
Movassaghi’s lawyer, Bobby Movassaghi, has said the allegations against his client are unproven and will not comment further until more information is given by prosecutors.
— With files from Rumina Daya