The London police participation in a probe into an alleged illegal gambling ring was the force’s largest investigation in the past decade, a senior investigator says.
London police worked with 17 other law enforcement agencies, including police in Stratford and Woodstock, for Operation Hobart, an investigation into an alleged multimillion-dollar gambling operation that police contend was run by members of the Hells Angels and an alleged Toronto crime family.
Four Londoners, including alleged Hells Angels member Robert Barletta, are among 28 Ontario residents facing a combined 228 charges for crimes related to guns, illegal gambling and tax evasion.
As many as 20 London officers were working on the case at its peak, said Supt. Chris Newton, who oversaw the London officers’ role.
“We’ve been involved right from the beginning,” he said of the two-year investigation.
Newton touted the pooling of police resources, saying such multi-jurisdictional investigations are the way of the future for investigating crimes that stretch across multiple regions.
The OPP announced the results of the investigation last week at a press conference, where police brass showcased the weapons, cash and other evidence seized. A string of arsons, shootings and other violent crimes spurred the launch of the investigation, police said.
But Newton cautioned the arrests aren’t guaranteed to stop the violence.
“I’m not naive enough to think it puts an end to it,” he said. “This is not the end of the investigation.”
That point was underscored last week by a suspected arson at a London home police raided as part of the crackdown.
A fast-moving fire Thursday night gutted the home at 203 Commissioners Rd. E., west of Wortley Road. The owner of the home, Habiba Kajan, was one of the Londoners charged.
Sources have linked Kajan, 43, to Barletta, 50, who was arrested aboard a plane at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Dec. 13.
Kajan was granted bail on Friday at the Brampton courthouse, while Barletta remains in custody.
There’s a “strong suspicion” the fire is related to Operation Hobart, Newton said.
But he added, “We as investigators have to be extremely cautious about jumping to any kinds of conclusions.”
The fire has left neighbours on the upscale street near London’s Old South on edge. There was a second scare Friday night when another blaze broke out at the house, bringing emergency crews back to the address, while police were still holding the scene.
A piece of furniture inside had reignited, platoon chief Colin Shewell said. “It was very small in nature,” he said of the second fire.
Because the house is now a crime scene — police have ruled the first fire suspicious — firefighters weren’t able to properly douse all the remaining hot spots, Shewell said, adding firefighters quickly extinguished the flames on Friday.
Police guarded the house over the weekend while fire investigators worked inside. The police presence was gone on Monday, when a restoration team arrived and started boarding up doors and windows. A fire crew also briefly returned to the house for training purposes, one of the firefighters said.
A police spokesperson said there was no new information to release Monday.
Staff Sgt. Anthony Renton, head of the OPP’s biker enforcement unit, previously said five locations in London were searched as part of Operation Hobart, though police haven’t revealed the addresses.
Newton confirmed a residence associated with Barletta, a founding member of the Hells Angels’ London chapter, was one of the sites searched but didn’t go into further details, citing the ongoing investigation.
As part of the raids, investigators seized or restrained the following assets: seven homes and two vacation properties valued at roughly $8.1 million; financial accounts holding more than $1.2-million; 18 vehicles, including luxury and vintage automobiles, three Harley Davidson motorcycles, two snowmobiles and two golf carts; more than $1.7 million in cash, gold and silver coins, and bars valued at $320,000; and luxury watches and jewelry valued at $303,000.
Newton called civil forfeiture, a legal process that enables a government to seize property and other assets belonging to persons suspected of committing a crime, an important part of the investigation.
Police contend the gambling operation used five different websites that made $131 million in illegal revenue over five years, including $13 million from Jan. 1 to the beginning of July 2019.
“This is a significant hit to their ability to make profit, and that’s what this is all about,” Newton said.
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