TORONTO — A 20,000 square foot mansion, more than $1 million in cash and 11 firearms were seized as police north of Toronto dismantled an illegal casino and spa.
Back in May, investigators with the York Regional Police intelligence unit and the guns, gangs and drug enforcement unit started a probe into illegal gaming dens, dubbed Project End Game.
The investigation was initiated after police said they received information identifying underground casinos operating throughout Markham, Ont.
“This is organized crime truly exploiting and demonstrating their money, their positions and opulence, thinking somehow that they are above the law,” Deputy Chief Brian Bigras said at a news conference held on Wednesday morning.
The first search warrant in Project End Game was executed at a commercial unit in Toronto on July 3. The property, located in Scarborough near Midland and Finch avenues, was “being run as an illegal gaming house,” police allege. At the time, officers seized more than $20,000, as well as gaming tables and video slot machines. Five people were taken into custody.
About three weeks later, the second search warrant in the probe was executed by members of the York Regional Police with the assistance of tactical teams from the Ontario Provincial Police and Durham Regional Police.
On July 23, 32 people were arrested at a 20,000 square foot residential property in Markham, Ont., located on Decourcy Court near Warden Avenue and Major Mackenzie Drive East. Police allege the $9 million mansion was being operated as a “high-end illegal casino.”
The mansion, which has 53 rooms, was restrained by police and 11 firearms with ammunition, $1 million in cash, $1.5 million in alcohol, and gaming machines and tables were seized.
Police said one of the firearms seized was a rifle fully loaded with a 30-round magazine. It was found inside a bedroom at the property and was “available within easy access to anyone in the room should a threat, or perceived threat, arise,” investigators said.
According to police, gamblers attending the Markham, Ont. property had “access to accommodation, spa treatments, beverage services, and high-end food,” including contraband items such as braised shark fin.
A third search warrant was executed in Project End Game one week later. Three people were taken into custody and more than $70,000 was seized at a residential property located on Woodland Acres Crescent near Teston Road and Bathurst Street in Vaughan, Ont. Police said “various documentary evidence relevant to the illegal gaming operations” was also obtained during this part of the probe.
Throughout the investigation so far, 29 individuals have been charged with a combined 74 criminal offences. Those charged are between the ages of 23 and 64.
Thirty-two investigators and 92 tactical officers from York Regional Police, Durham Regional Police and the Ontario Provincial Police have been part of the project thus far.
Operation initially called off after children spotted at mansion
Speaking at Wednesday’s news conference held outside of the mansion on Decourcy Court, Supt. Mike Slack said renovations at the residence are believed to have begun a few years ago, but the property only became known to them late last year.
After months of investigating the site, officers were ready to execute their search warrant on July 17, Slack said.
“Our helicopter Air 2 was utilized to conduct observations on the residence prior to that deployment,” he said. “While conducting the fly over, Air 2 noted the usual large number of vehicles and security personnel, but also identified over 20 persons, including six children, on the rear patio in the backyard.”
“These persons were seen in the patio area being served by employees and wait staff. It is unknown the reason for the special event, but the presence of children, armed security guard and guard dogs made an unsafe environment and the operation was called off.”
A week later the helicopter returned and the warrant was fully executed.
Investigation ongoing, human trafficking suspected
While announcing the charges on Wednesday, members of the York Regional Police said the probe is ongoing.
As part of the ongoing investigation, human sex trafficking is suspected to have been taking place at the Markham, Ont. property, Slack said.
“Our suspicion is as part of the accommodation and spa treatment that some of that trickles over into the exploitation of women working in that environment,” he said.
Furthermore, in light of this investigation, York Regional Police has initiated a new assignment, dubbed Project Double Down.
“Recently we have experienced an increase in violent crime in organized crime group activity here in the city of Markham,” Bigras said at Wednesday’s news conference. “York Regional Police takes offence to this utter disregard for public safety. I certainly know that our community takes offence. We have heard the complaints, we’ve heard the calls to action from our concerned citizens and we engaged immediately to deter and disrupt this activity.”
“As a result of this investigation we have initiated Project Double Down. Project Double Down is providing ongoing and continuous efforts to thwart and hold to criminal account members of the involved organized crime groups. It was mobilized to deter and disrupt the organized crime groups responsible for the recent rise in crimes.
Bigras said York Regional Police has also increased its uniformed presence across the community.
Anyone with further information regarding this investigation is asked to contact officers at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7817 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
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