Questions raised on Markham mansion casino case amid allegations police planted evidence, took $450K watches

Click to play video: 'Charges dropped against central figure in Markham mansion casino investigation' Charges dropped against central figure in Markham mansion casino investigation
WATCH ABOVE: A complaint has been filed with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director in a York Regional Police investigation that saw dozens of people arrested in an alleged illegal casino operation. Erica Vella has details – May 17, 2021

Questions are being raised about a 2020 York Regional Police (YRP) investigation into a casino operating at a $10-million mansion in Markham after lawyers for one of the accused allege evidence was planted at the scene and two watches worth approximately $450,000 were stolen.

“In the course of our work defending Mr. (Wei) Wei, we uncovered troubling evidence pointing to instances of serious police misconduct, including conduct that, if proven, would amount to criminal offences,” lawyer Danielle Robitaille wrote on behalf of her client to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), a civilian watchdog agency, on Saturday.

It was on Sept. 30 when police held a news conference to announce 11 guns — including a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle — and more than $11.5 million in cash, gaming supplies, alcohol and property were seized from an elaborate mansion on Decourcy Court, near Warden Avenue and Major Mackenzie Drive East, at the end of July.

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Nearly 30 people were charged after the police operation, dubbed Project Endgame, with dozens of offences, including alcohol- and weapons-related charges.

Read more: Dozens charged, millions in property and cash seized in alleged illegal casino bust: York police

Wei was arrested at his family home on July 30, days after warrants were executed at the Decourcy Court property, and charged with a variety of offences, including illegal operation of a betting house, unsafe storage of a firearm, possession of weapons for a dangerous purpose, possession of a stolen firearm and possession of the proceeds of crime.

However, Robitaille’s letter, which was first reported on by The Toronto Star and later shared with Global News, said the Crown withdrew all charges against Wei on Thursday. She went on to detail three main allegations of misconduct involving YRP personnel.

The first centred around a Patek Philippe watch (bought in Paris and worth approximately $300,000) and a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch (bought in Hong Kong and worth approximately $150,000). Robitaille said YRP officers took videos and photos of Wei’s belongings in a bedroom he used after the warrant was executed, including the watches, and showed how the belongings were found when entering and when things were moved.

However, she said the watches “do not appear” in the exit photos and videos. Robitaille said the watches weren’t bagged and tagged and couldn’t be found by officers.

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The second concern surrounded a gun holster found in the bedroom during a secondary search.

“That holster was planted by police in an apparent attempt to connect Mr. Wei to various firearms found elsewhere at 5 Decourcy,” Robitaille wrote.

“A close examination of police videos and photographs raise serious concerns about how a gun holster appeared for the very first time in Mr. Wei’s bedroom suite almost 17 hours after the search commenced.”

She said the holster was described as being outside of a linen closet door, but added videos and photos taken when the warrant was first executed don’t appear to show a holster in the location or anywhere else in the room.”

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“Multiple sets of officer notes indicate that police had secured the scene the night of July 23, 2020, and into July 24, 2020. This evidence suggests that the holster was planted in Mr. Wei’s room by police,” the letter said.

The third allegation involved a reported breach in solicitor-client privilege when police executed a warrant a week after the initial one at Wei’s family home.

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Robitaille said an officer took pictures of documents covered by the privilege, including a retainer agreement with her firm, which later triggered a call to the Crown.

“In the course of being interviewed about the breach, the involved officer advised that her purpose in reviewing and photographing the retainer agreement was indeed investigative and that she thought the “title” of our retainer agreement could advance the criminal case against Mr. Wei,” she wrote.

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“The Crown-ordered investigation into these outrageous breaches of Mr. Wei’s … right to counsel revealed systemic failures by the YRP in their training, the planning of their searches, and ultimately the searches’ execution.”

Robitaille said in late 2020 and early 2021, she and her firm reported concerns along with “detailed video and photo support” to the assistant Crown attorneys charged with prosecuting the case.

The letter said the Crown contacted YRP Chief Jim MacSween on March 17 to ask for an investigation into the allegations.

However, more than a month later, Robitaille said she and her colleagues found an internal YRP probe was being carried out instead of an external body.

Click to play video: 'Dozens charged, millions in property and cash seized in alleged illegal casino bust: York police' Dozens charged, millions in property and cash seized in alleged illegal casino bust: York police
Dozens charged, millions in property and cash seized in alleged illegal casino bust: York police – Sep 30, 2020

“Given the way YRP made a significant public spectacle of the results of their investigation in Project Endgame and their continued communication with media while the charges were outstanding, we have grave concerns that the internal investigation into this troubling misconduct will fail to adequately probe the case,” she wrote.

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“We respectfully request that the OIPRD invoke its jurisdiction, in consultation with Chief MacSween, and investigate this very serious matter.”

Global News contacted York Regional Police on Monday to ask about the allegations contained in the letter.

Const. Laura Nicolle, a media relations officer for YRP, said the service is conducting “a thorough investigation” into the complaint.

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“Chief MacSween directed the professional standards bureau to investigate the complaint. The [unit] was unable to complete the investigation or report its findings before Ms. Robitaille sent her letter of complaint to the OIPRD on Saturday,” she said in a statement, alleging there was “somewhat” of a delay because Wei and Robitaille’s “failure to cooperate with investigators.”

Nicolle said YRP was advised Wei entered into a two-year, $500,000 peace bond (without surety or deposit) and was ordered to keep the peace, not to attend or enter a “common gaming house” in Canada and not to attend any property in Ontario with gaming equipment that isn’t licensed by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. She also said Wei forfeited the Decourcy Court mansion, nearly $1 million in seized money and gaming equipment.

When it comes to the case itself, Nicolle said multiple accused still have their cases before the court and are “awaiting resolution to their charges or trial.”

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“Like every case of this nature where you have multiple people charged, plea agreements are often arranged,” Nicolle said, referencing reports the Project Endgame cases has collapsed.

“We are content with the outcome of this plea agreement, which will include the forfeiture of millions of dollars in assets.”

Read more: Major organized crime case in Ontario falls apart after allegations of ‘unlawful’ wiretap

News of the allegations come months after another prolific YRP investigation fell apart. In February it was announced charges were stayed in one of the largest organized crime investigations in Ontario’s history, dubbed Project Sindicato, after lawyers for the accused alleged YRP wiretapped phone calls that should have been protected by solicitor-client privilege.

Global News asked if there is a broader examination being done to look at the issues arising out of the massive investigations, but a response wasn’t received to that question.

Representatives for the Crown attorneys responsible for the Project Endgame case were also contacted as part of this story in order to find out more about it and its status, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.

— With files from Kamil Karamali, Amanda Connolly and The Canadian Press

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