Illegal gaming dens have been under investigation in Ontario for quite some time. Several police organizations have been working around the clock via an effort known as Project Endgame to stop illegal activity including organized crime and casino gambling. A recent bust in Markham brought all of the information regarding the activity to the public and sheds light on how Ontario appears to be turning into the underground casino capital of the world.
As the coronavirus took hold in the county, as it did in other parts of the world, it seems organized crime units pulled together the illegal gambling dens in an effort to earn money as well as conduct other illicit activities. What’s particularly interesting about this bust is both the scale and level of organization of the operation, which included $20,000 table limits as well as luxury food items and allegedly prostitution. In a bizarre twist, the National Post also reported today that the casinos alleged operator Wei Wei had met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on two separate occasions.
Mansion Bust in Markham
It was the bust involving a huge mansion in Markham that brought the investigation details to the forefront, just due to its sheer size and scope. In Canada, legal casinos have been shutdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak. These illegal operations quickly sprang up, offering players a way to gamble during lockdown.
During the mansion raid, police seized assets, firearms, cash, and liquor. Brian Bigras, the deputy chief of the York police, said to the media that organized crime is exploiting and demonstrating their money, position and opulence, thinking they are above the law.
At the center of the raid was the mansion, 20,000 square feet in size. The mansion was located on two acres of land in Markham, in the suburbs. The property used the upstairs rooms for a bed and breakfast with the basement housing an underground casino and spa. It was a luxury space where players could gather to socialize, drink and gamble.
On July 23rd, the property was hit by tactical officers, a total of 92 on the mission. During the raid, dozens of gamblers were found seated at mahjong tables and slot machines. There was a cash bar as well as a kitchen serving food. Even items on the menu were illegal, as the kitchen was serving banned items like shark fin.
The patrons inside the illegal casino were not following protocols associated with COVID-19 including wearing masks and distancing themselves from others.
Wei Wei is the owner of the operation, who is facing several charges. Police have charged him with illegally possessing a firearm, illegally operating a gambling establishment, and selling liquor without a permit. Xiang Yue Chen, Wei Wei’s wife, is also facing charges, along with the couples two children.
As mentioned, it was the Project Endgame investigation that led to the raid of the mansion along with other raids in Ontario involving illegal gambling dens. The York Regional Police Intelligence Unit as well as the Guns, Gangs and Drug Enforcement Unit started investigating the alleged illegal activity back in May. The investigation began after police received data about underground casinos located in Markham.
On July 3rd, the first raid took place with a search warrant executed on Midland Avenue. The illegal gaming house was busted, with video slot machines and table games found within the property. Over $20,000 in funds were seized with five people arrested from this location.
The big mansion bust took place just a few days later, on July 23rd. During this raid, 32 people were arrested, with 11 firearms and ammunition seized, along with gaming tables and machines. The mansion, valued at $9 million, has been restrained.
On the 30th of July, an additional search warrant was executed, this time in Vaughn on Woodland Acres. Three people were arrested at this site and over $70,000 in cash seized. Evidence was documented of the property, showcasing it as a gambling facility.
Chief Jim MacSween commented on the raids by stating:
The money moving through these underground casinos leads to huge profits for criminals that fund other ventures such as prostitution and drug trafficking. This illegal high stake gambling also leads to gun violence, armed robberies, kidnappings, extortion and other serious violent offences within our community. We will continue to target organized crime in York Region and use every tool at our disposal, including forensic accounting, to ensure these criminals are held accountable.
Project Endgame has brought the underground illegal casino gambling activities of Ontario to light and resulted in 29 individuals charged with criminal activity. Over 70 total charges have been filed and $10 million in total assets seized. A total of $1.5 million top-shelf liquor was included in the seizure.
Chief MacSween pointed out that while the total value of the seizures is a significant amount, it is only the beginning of police efforts to dismantle organized crime groups that are operating in the York Region via illegal gaming facilities.
Anyone with information regarding illegal gambling dens or organized criminal activity are encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers or the York Regional Police Guns, Gangs and Drug Enforcement Unit.