Children's indoor playground was used to hide heroin, police say after busting drug-smuggling ring

Mansion raid yields $2.3 million in drugs, 48 'menacing' high-power firearms as 33 arrested in international probe

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Police found kilos of heroin hidden in a children’s indoor playground facility in Brampton, Ont., when they moved to thwart an international drug trafficking network accused of smuggling cocaine, ketamine, heroin and opium into Canada and looping it through Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

It was a “robust network” working to import drugs into the Toronto area from India and the United States and then distributing them “through a sophisticated system run by the traffickers,” according to York Regional Police.

Officers in three provinces and in California executed more than 50 search warrants on April 8, leading to the arrest of 33 people.

Approximately $2.3 million worth of drugs were seized, including 10 kilos of cocaine, eight kilos of ketamine, three kilos of heroin and 2.5 kilos of opium, along with 48 firearms, $730,000 in Canadian cash and three high-end vehicles, police said.

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The investigation, codenamed Project Cheetah, began last May by York Regional Police, north of Toronto, and expanded to include Peel Regional Police, west of Toronto, the RCMP and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

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Police had to smash through an iron gate during a raid at a mansion that was fronted by large stone lions, a high fence and security cameras.

Heavily armed tactical officers using armoured vehicles breached the large property with support from both Peel and York police. At least one man was arrested there and led away in handcuffs by York officers. Children’s toys and bicycles lay about the home’s property.

Police video shows a customized shiny gold-coloured sports car in a garage with a black floor embossed with a large gold crest of a lion’s head, surrounded by laurel leaves and the words “Jhajj Brothers.”

Police had to break down the gate to access the house in question.
Police had to break down the gate to access the house in question. Photo by Handout

One of the men arrested was Harjinder Jhaj, 38, of Caledon, Ont. He is charged with trafficking ketamine, conspiracy to traffic ketamine and two counts of possession of property obtained by crime.

Insp. Ryan Hogan of York Regional Police’s Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau said that during a search of a property in Caledon, police found 46 guns — many of which look to be shotguns and rifles, including one with a tactical long-distance scope.

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“Some of them (are) very menacing in the firepower they possess. And we know that in the drug trade violence is common. The propensity for violence (involving) profit-driven, illegal commodities we’re seeing in the community on a regular basis,” Hogan said.

The guns were lawfully possessed and stored, but were seized “as a serious threat to public safety” under provisions of the Criminal Code, given the nature of the criminal charges, he said.

Hogan also said the alleged discovery of 2.5 kilos of heroin stored in a children’s playground business during the probe was concerning. Investigators found it in a utility room and estimate it is worth $480,000 on the street.

Police found heroin stashed in this Karebear outlet in Brampton.
Police found heroin stashed in this Karebear outlet in Brampton.

“Of particular concern when we look at heroin, a very insidious drug causing great harm to our community, a number of kilograms are alleged to be seized from a Playland in Brampton,” he said.

“We can see not only the effects in the community but the real significant risk that it put to the children, some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

The Karebear Playland is a large, three-storey children’s play area featuring climbing, slide and play structures, and three rooms for children’s birthday parties. Police say the facility is connected to Pritpal Singh, 56, and his daughter, Harkiran Sing, 33, both of Brampton. The father faces eight charges, including trafficking heroin, and possession for the purpose of trafficking heroin and cocaine, possession of opium and possession of counterfeit money; the daughter faces two possession charges.

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The company could not be reached for comment.

York police described a transnational investigation into a network receiving drug shipments smuggled from India and California. The method of the drugs’ entry into Canada was not revealed.

Peel Region, where most of the accused reside, is home to both Toronto Pearson International Airport and a large base of trucking companies, many of them small, family-run operations, so either or both means of getting across the border are possible. York police did not mention the involvement of Canada Border Services Agency in the investigation.

Some of the firearms that were seized from the mansion.
Some of the firearms that were seized from the mansion. Photo by Handout

Police searched a tractor trailer as part of the probe.

So far, at least, no transport trucks have been seized, but three expensive personal vehicles have been: a Lamborghini luxury sports car, Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes E-Class, and a Ford F150 pickup truck.

“The success of this investigation is a testament to the effective co-operation among multiple agencies across jurisdictions as we pursue the shared objective of public safety,” Insp. Marwan Zogheib, the officer in charge of the RCMP’s Toronto West Detachment, said in a written statement.

“The RCMP’s resources across Canada and overseas and our partnership with York Regional Police provide a multiplier effect to our collective efforts to dismantle such criminal networks.”

Although police said 33 people were arrested, they released the names of only 28, who were all arrested in Ontario, suggesting five may have been arrested in California or another province.

The U.S. DEA did not respond to requests for information.

Nineteen people from Brampton were arrested, as well as four from Toronto, two from Vaughan, and one each from Woodstock and Caledon. One man, of no fixed address, is listed as still wanted for arrest.

York police said the investigation is ongoing.

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