Farms searched in Leamington, Durham and Kawartha Lakes

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YORK REGION – Police here were announcing Thursday the seizure of millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs grown on central and southern Ontario farms which were feeding a major organized crime operation.

They haven’t ruled out a connection to money laundering.

Project Moon and Project Zen involved drug production and trafficking rings, but it was a group charged in the Project Moon investigation, where York Regional Police were raiding properties in Markham, Lindsay and Pefferlaw, which had “ties” to organized crime.

Toronto Police Services and the Ontario Provincial Police were involved in making the arrests which saw 42 people charged.

A spokesman for York Regional Police Services told Ontario Farmer the “organized crime groups were leasing the farms, or portions of them (in greenhouses) to produce cannabis under the impression that they were licensed and legal.”

Video shared with media shows an extensive greenhouse network at a farm which had been photographed using thermal imaging but its location was not identified.

“It is too soon to determine if the owners or renters had full knowledge of the law, in regards to licensed legal grows.  Farm owner/operators were arrested and charged in Leamington and Lindsay.  None of the farms were seized, but the matter is still under investigation,” the YRPS spokesman said in response to emailed questions. Names had not been released on Thursday.

During a press conference Thursday CBC said police were showing footage of “farms in Leamington, Durham and Kawartha Lakes that were growing cannabis destined to be sold on the black market.”

Project Moon, included investigators with the Organized Crime Bureau – Guns, Gangs and Drug Enforcement Unit, Major Projects Unit, which involved a joint forces operation with the Toronto Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police and Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario (CISO). Investigators focused on dismantling a large-scale synthetic drug network, says a release on the YRPS website.

“As the investigation progressed, suspects related to Asian organized crime groups and street gangs were found to be producing and supplying methamphetamine, MDMA, shatter and mushrooms,” says the release.

Police allege “the suspects were funding their synthetic drug operations through the production and sale of illicit cannabis by abusing the Health Canada medical cannabis licencing system. As a result of search warrants that were executed across southern Ontario, more than 20,000 illegally grown cannabis plants were seized, along with more than 560 kilograms of dried cannabis, 23 kilograms of methamphetamine, 15,300 MDMA pills, nine pounds of mushrooms, 400 Viagara pills, $220,000 in currency, four firearms, including a Tech 9 machine gun with a silencer. Investigators have also charged 42 people.

Det. Sgt. Doug Bedford was quoted by CBC saying “Organized crime has manipulated and adapted to the current laws in Canada.” 

York Regional Police Services told Ontario Farmer “The purchase of agricultural land by organized crime to launder proceeds is very possible, but as this is an ongoing investigation we cannot comment at this time.”

Det. Sgt. Doug Bedford said during the press conference that members of a Toronto gang, the Parkdale Crips were involved as “co-conspirators.”

“The Parkdale Crips were not associated to the farms in question, but they were associated to some of the people operating the farms,” the spokesman told Ontario Farmer.

York Regional police allege this group was funding its illegal activity by producing and selling cannabis while using legal medical licenses,” CBC reported.

Bedford told the press conference the group was “fraudulently obtaining licenses to produce cannabis through Health Canada,” CBC said. Some of its cannabis, he said, was “illegally exported to the US.”

Project Zen saw police arrest eight people after focusing on a home in Vaughan where a man had been arrested last year carrying three kilograms of cocaine.

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