Watches worth around $450K vanished after police search, gun holster was planted, defence alleges
Months after police unveiled a massive bust at an alleged illegal casino at a sprawling mansion north of Toronto, charges have been withdrawn against a central figure in the case — with his lawyers now alleging that police planted evidence and stole watches worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from his bedroom.
Now Danielle Robitaille, the lawyer for 52-year-old Wei Wei, has filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), asking it to investigate what went on with York Regional Police’s “Project Endgame.”
According to police, the Crown withdrew all charges against Wei earlier this month, and he has entered into a common law peace bond — an order to keep the peace and be of good behaviour with certain conditions — for a two-year period.
“We no longer have any confidence in the objectivity of the YRP’s internal investigation into this matter,” Robitaille wrote, in a letter first obtained by The Toronto Star.
An internal York Regional Police investigation is underway, but the same police force that is alleged to have acted inappropriately cannot properly examine what happened here, Robitaille says in the letter.
“It is on this basis that we submit a formal complaint to your office to investigate this serious misconduct and abuse of authority by the York Regional Police.”
York police first unveiled the details of their investigation back in September at a news conference in Markham, Ont., in front of the gates of the 20,000-sq.-ft. estate.
Police said at the time it was the site of a massive underground gambling operation, complete with slot machines, mahjong tables, a full cash bar with thousands of bottles of top-shelf alcohol and a banking area.
Upstairs was a series of bedrooms that appeared to operate as a bed and breakfast, and investigators also said they found a fully loaded AR-15 rifle with a 30-round magazine along with a 9-mm handgun.
But now, the defence alleges it discovered evidence of theft and evidence tampering when going through photos and videos from the police search.
Luxury watches go missing
According to the letter, on July 23, York Regional Police officers searched a bedroom at the mansion that Wei was staying in. Officers shot numerous photos and videos in the room, and in them, two watches are visible: a Patek Phillippe that was bought in Paris, said to be worth around $300,000, and a Jaeger-LeCoultre, which the letter says was purchased in Hong Kong and is worth about $150,000.
Police then proceeded to take exit videos and photos after they concluded a search of the room on July 24 — but the watches don’t appear in any of them, according to the letter.
Officers bagged several items, such as Wei’s cellphone and passport, and carefully tagged, numbered and photographed them, the letter says. The watches, Robitalle alleges, were not among them.
“Now, the YRP cannot locate them,” the letter reads.
“Upon discovering that the watches were missing in disclosure and from exhibit logs, we requested that Mr. Wei’s watches be returned to him. YRP have advised that they conducted an extensive search of their evidence locker and do not have the watches, and that they cannot account for their disappearance during the search.”
The letter also says police alleged they have found a gun holster in Wei’s bedroom during a secondary search on July 24. But Robitaille maintains that holster was planted in an attempt to connect Wei to other guns found elsewhere in the mansion.
She writes the holster suddenly appeared in the bedroom for the first time almost 17 hours after police started searching it.
The letter also states that police breached Wei’s solicitor-client privilege by taking photos of his retainer agreement with his lawyer.
York police conducting internal investigation
These concerns were brought to the Newmarket Crown Attorney’s office, which forwarded the matter to York Regional Police Chief Jim MacSween, Robitaille says in the letter.
“Chief MacSween could have referred the investigation to another police service in order to ensure objectivity. He did not,” she writes.
“It is our understanding that the matters described above are being investigated by the York Regional Police Professional Standards Bureau.
“We are concerned that the YRP cannot be objective in their assessment of their own conduct in this matter because of their problematic publicization of their investigation at the early stages of this matter, and their ongoing media campaign against our client.”
In an emailed response sent Monday, media officer Const. Laura Nicolle says York police are conducting a “thorough investigation” into the complaint.
Nicolle says the force’s professional standards bureau wasn’t able to complete its investigation before the letter was sent.
She also says the investigation has also “been delayed somewhat” by Wei and Robitaille’s “failure to co-operate with investigators” — those being officers from the same police force alleged to have committed misconduct linked to the initial investigation.
Nicolle also notes under the conditions of Wei’s peace bond, he has to be of good behaviour, not go to any “common gaming house,” and not go to any premises in Ontario with gaming equipment present unless it’s licensed by the province.
She adds Wei agreed to forfeit his interest in the mansion at 5 Decourcy Court in Markham (which is currently for sale) as well as $960,000 in seized cash and gaming equipment.
“Overall, we are content with this outcome,” she said.
In an email, a Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson said that charges against five other accused linked to the case are still before the courts.
In an additional statement sent later Monday, York Regional Police said the case as a whole has not collapsed, noting the remaining charges.
“We must be cautious in our response to these earlier reports so as not to impact these outstanding prosecutions,” the statement read.
“Like every case of this nature where you have multiple people charged, plea agreements are often arranged. We are content with the outcome of this plea agreement, which will include the forfeiture of millions of dollars in assets.”
The OIPRD refused to comment about the case when contacted by CBC News.
“The director believes that commenting on allegations of police misconduct in the media would compromise his ability to then investigate these allegations in a fair manner,” the office said in a statement.
This is the second time this year that a high-profile York police case has been impacted by allegations of misconduct.
Earlier this year, one of the largest police investigations into organized crime in Ontario’s history crumbled after police allegedly illegally intercepted phone calls as part of a multimillion-dollar probe into suspected Mob activity in the Greater Toronto Area.