A police investigation into an alleged underground casino operating out of a mansion north of Toronto has fallen apart after officers were accused of stealing two luxury watches and planting evidence.
Police in Ontario said in September they had seized more than $10m in assets, firearms, cash and liquor as part of a months-long investigation into illegal gambling.
Twenty-nine people were arrested, including the owner of the mansion, Wei Wei, who faced nine charges related to selling liquor without a permit, illegally possessing a firearm and operating a gambling establishment.
But last week prosecutors quietly withdrew the charges against Wei, the Toronto Star reported.
Police said the basement of the mansion – now on sale for C$9.9m (US$8.2m) – had been transformed into a clandestine casino and spa, where patrons did not observe coronavirus protocols.
But after reviewing police photos and video, Wei’s defence team said they found instances of theft and evidence tampering by officers.
According to Wei’s lawyer Danielle Robitaille, two luxury watches were seen in photographs and video recorded by York regional police officers in one of the mansion’s bedrooms. But in footage from the following days, the watches were no longer visible. Wei’s defence team says the police never logged the watches as evidence and have demanded their return.
Over the weekend, Robitaille filed a formal complaint with the civilian police oversight body over the “serious misconduct and abuse of authority” by York regional police.
During the raid, police seized a number of firearms, including an AR-15 rifle and a handgun. Robitaille alleges that police planted a gun holster in Wei’s bedroom in an apparent attempt to link the homeowner to 11 weapons found on the premises.
“Mr Wei is very relieved this ordeal is over and now that the charges have been withdrawn,” Robitaille told the Toronto Star.
Wei has agreed to a peace bond and is unable to enter any gaming establishments in the province.
Prosecutors also dropped charges against Wei’s ex-wife and the co-owner of the mansion, Xiang Yue Chen, 48. Prosecutors also stayed charges against Wei’s daughter.
Wei Dong, believed to be the casino’s manager, still faces criminal charges relating to the illegal casino and the guns found in the mansion.
York region police said they were carrying out a “thorough investigation” of the allegations.