Richmond properties allegedly used by drug-trafficking ring named in forfeiture bid

The B.C. government is trying to seize a commercial property in the Ironwood area of Richmond that was raided earlier this year by police.

In late August, Delta police raided the property – seizing multiple Ziploc bags of drugs, guns and ammunition, and nearly $181,000 in Canadian currency.

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The provincial government now wants that Hammersmith Way property – along with four others spread across Richmond, Delta and Abbotsford – the cash, plus cellphones, vehicles, jewelry, and Harley Davidson motorcycles, forfeited as the proceeds of crime.

A notice of civil claim – filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Nov. 13 by the province’s director of civil forfeiture – alleges that the properties and items are linked to money laundering and a drug trafficking ring dealing cocaine, methamphetamines, MDMA, fentanyl, illicit cannabis and psilocybin, uncovered during a Delta Police Department (DPD) investigation.

Investigators believe the $18-million drug-trafficking operation has links to organized crime, namely the Hells Angels and UN Gang, according to a statement issued by DPD on Nov. 18. A second probe also took place in October.

The civil forfeiture suit names as defendants Cole Chalmers Svenson, whose last known address is on Springmont Drive in Richmond; Ghanai Holdings Inc. and two numbered companies, all registered at Richmond addresses; Surrey residents Gill Thomas Rajpaul Bergen and Aleksandr Leonidovitch Shtraimish; and Delta resident Norval Hume McLennan.

The investigation was launched in the summer, after DPD received complaints in July of controlled substance trafficking at a house on Williams Avenue in Delta, which is owned by McLennan.

Through the investigation, police observed people conducting drug-trafficking activities after leaving the Williams Avenue house, which led them to the commercial unit at #128/228 - 11951 Hammersmith Way – the Ironwood property – which is owned by Ghanai Holdings Inc.

The civil forfeiture suit outlines how, during the Aug. 26 search of the 11951 Hammersmith Way property, DPD found body armour; an open gun safe with 40-calibre ammunition; a loaded 9mm pistol, and a modified semi-automatic rifle without a trigger lock and with a loaded magazine; a taser; illicit cannabis; cocaine, including a one-kilogram brick; MDMA pills; Oxycodone pills; 750 Tramadol pills; methamphetamine; psilocybin; and fentanyl.

About $146,000 in cash was also found in two safes at the property, along with a stolen handgun and ammunition. Another $6,000, along with USD$160, was found in a desk and $27,000 in envelopes marked with dates and individuals’ names or initials.  

A flip phone, Blackberry and Samsung cellphones, a money counter and computers were also seized.

Svenson, the Richmond resident, was seen driving to the 11951 Hammersmith Way property on the day of the raid, before heading to a grocery store parking lot in Surrey where he had “a short-duration meeting” and was arrested, according to the court documents. 

Shtraimish was arrested the same day, outside the Hammersmith Way property. Meanwhile, McLennan was arrested on Aug. 19 at his Williams Avenue property, where the investigation had first begun.

A commercial property on Venture Street in Delta, owned by one of the numbered companies, was also identified by police as being used by the drug trafficking ring, according to the court documents.

The suit states that during an Aug. 27 search of that site, DPD found a 2016 Harley Davidson with a “Support Your Local Hells Angels West Point” sticker on it, two vehicles with illegal, after market hidden compartments, engagement rings with a total value of $70,281, along with $2,145 in Canadian currency and mail related to a house in Abbotsford, owned by the defendant Bergen.

Then, on Sept. 4, DPD carried out a search at a second Richmond commercial property – at #2155 - 12191 Hammersmith Way – owned by the one of the numbered companies – where they found lockers marked with the initials or names of individuals believed to be the “runners” for the drug-trafficking ring, according to the court documents.

Discarded controlled substance materials, a 2017 Harley Davidson, and three vehicles with illegal after-market hidden compartments – one of which was in the process of being installed – were also found at the second Hammersmith Way property.

In total, police seized $190,021.80 and USD$160 during their investigation.

B.C.’s director of civil forfeiture alleges that the commercial and residential properties, motorcycles, cash, vehicles, jewelry and cellphones are all the “instruments of unlawful activity,” including drug trafficking, illicit cannabis sales, possession of body armour, owning and using vehicles with aftermarket, hidden compartments, multiple firearms offences, money laundering and failure to declare taxable income.

As a result, the government wants the properties, vehicles and items – along with any proceeds and interest – forfeited.

None of the defendants has responded to the civil forfeiture suits, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

A search of online court records reveals that McLennan, Shtraimish and Svenson, who were all arrested during the August raids, have not been charged criminally.

In a statement, DPD stated that “more than a dozen people in Delta and Richmond” had been arrested – with charges pending – as a result of the August investigation and a second probe in late October, when police seized $1.8 million of dried cannabis from three suspected commercial marijuana grow operations in Richmond.

The total street value of the drugs seized during the August investigation is estimated to be about $250,000, according to DPD.

Police believe the operation was being run by organized crime, with evidence pointing to links with the UN gang and Hells Angels, according to the DPD statement.

According to the provincial government, civil forfeiture bids can proceed even if the defendants haven’t been charged, and the director of civil forfeiture doesn’t need to prove that the defendants were convicted of a crime.

Rather, the director must prove that the property is either the proceeds or instrument of unlawful activity, using evidence gathered by police.

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