At least five buildings and properties worth a total of $15 million, belonging to individuals suspected of being involved in a large-scale illegal cannabis production ring, have been or will be blocked by authorities following ‘a major police investigation, learned La Presse.
Six suspects are the subject of targeted warrants: they allegedly used at least 22 certificates of authorization to produce cannabis for medical and personal purposes issued by Health Canada and used them to cultivate marijuana on a large scale in the purpose of exporting it to the United States.
The investigation, dubbed Opportunity and carried out by the sleuths of the ACCES Cannabis program, began in the spring of 2021, following a request for assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States drug police.
One of the suspects then carried out two Hawala-type money exchanges totaling more than $450,000 with a man whom he did not know was a double agent for the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).
A Hawala-type transaction is an exchange of money between individuals or criminal organizations, from one destination to another, without the sums having to cross customs controls.
By following this first suspect, the investigators targeted a warehouse on Saint-Patrick Street, in the southwest of Montreal, where illegal producers would have used three different addresses and eight authorizations from Health Canada.
The owner of the building and his son, who are the subject of the charges, allegedly set up companies through which they rented premises to illegal “gardeners”.
The investigation then led the police to a farm on Rang Lepage, in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, where they notably seized 5,700 marijuana plants and a trailer in which two women assigned to cultivation lived.
In the farm buildings were displayed a dozen authorizations from Health Canada, some of which were issued to nominees who did not know where their permits were.
“Today, when we come across a plantation where there is no permit from Health Canada, we are surprised. This is the exception now, illegal plantations without a certificate,” says the lead investigator, who asked us not to write his name, presumably for operational reasons.
In the St. Patrick’s Street warehouse (valued at around $6 million) were 22 air conditioners, lamps, and other production equipment, and electricity payments totaled tens of thousands of dollars for a year. .
On the Rang Lepage property in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, the illegal production of cannabis was carried out on an industrial scale, in three hangars, and the crops were separated according to growth stages.
A police-mandated electrician assessed the electrical installations in each of the sheds at $75,000, not including air conditioners, lamps and fans, among others.
In another building on rue Charland, in the borough of Montréal-Nord, where cannabis was grown, two of the suspects who lived there paid $28,000 annually in current expenses (electricity, taxes, mortgage) while their income combined annual claims totaled less than $36,000.
In addition to the father and son involved in the companies that own and rent the building on Saint-Patrick Street, the four other defendants are individuals who allegedly cultivated the marijuana plants.
Qiao Lin, 41, Fei Chen, 41, Minh Tan Tran, 52, and Van Hong Pham, 52, all of Montreal, are charged with cultivation of cannabis, possession of cannabis for the purpose of sale and possession of cannabis for the purpose of distribution.
Esmaelle Torabi, 59, and her son Alexander, 26, both of Montreal, are facing cannabis conspiracy and cultivation bosses. The six suspects will appear in June.
As for the buildings, they are currently blocked. The Attorney General of Quebec will address the court to seize and confiscate them for the benefit of the State.
“Project Opportunity has seized and blocked significant profits from criminal activity. In terms of the value of seized assets, Opportunity represents one of our largest investigations to date. I am very proud of the results achieved by our team and we will continue our efforts to deprive criminals of the fruits of their illegal activities,” concluded Nathalie Morin, Commander of the SPVM’s ACCESS and Proceeds of Crime Section.
15 million: Value of blocked assets
$24,466: Amount of money (Canadian and American) seized
$172,800: Value of cannabis production equipment
6009: Number of Cannabis Plants
$1,500,000: Market value of cannabis plants
523.88 lbs: Bulk Cannabis Weight
$400,000: Bulk Cannabis Market Value
21 million: Resale value (on the legal market and significant amounts of uncollected taxes) of cannabis seized