The seizure of three development companies in an investigation of illegal gambling operations shows the growing sophistication and status of outlaw bikers, says the head of Ontario’s biker enforcement unit.
“I see them (outlaw motorcycle clubs) as almost equal to the mob. They are close in status and stature to the mob,” Det. Staff Sgt Scott Wade, operations manager of the OPP biker enforcement unit, said Friday. “This is high-level organized crime.”
Officers from more than 20 different agencies seized $24 million in assets, including those of three land development properties, in an operation that led to new charges last week against the former head of the London Hells Angels, Robert Barletta.
Barletta, 50, was charged with money laundering and tax evasion. In December 2019, he had been charged with 12 weapons and bookmaking charges, as well as commission of an offence for a criminal organization and income tax evasion, following a two-year investigation of illegal gambling called Operation Hobart. That effort also saw 27 other people charged and police seized $12 million worth of assets.
In the latest Operation Hobart busts on Wednesday, four other people were charged with bookmaking, commission of an offence for a criminal organization, proceeds of crime, money laundering and tax evasion. Three others were charged with money laundering and proceeds of crime. They are all to appear in court in Brampton Sept. 17.
Among those charged was Douglas English, 38, of London. He’s charged with bookmaking and the possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking. He is not a member of the Hells Angels, Wade said.
Police swooped down on locations in London, Oakville, Toronto, Pickering, Welland and Thornbury on Wednesday and seized three residences, one vacant vacation property and eight vehicles, including sports cars, a vintage automobile and a Harley Davidson motorcycle, OPP said.
Officers say they also seized $82,590 in Canadian cash and $23,398 in U.S. cash, about seven kilograms of Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and half of kilogram of marijuana with a combined value of $66,986.
But the seizure of the financial assets of three land development companies, which included building lots in the Collingwood area and a $7 million, newly-built house on one lot, stand out. None of the residences seized, nor development companies, was in London, police say.
“The violence is because of the profits. If we only arrest people and if we don’t seize the profits, we’re only doing half the job,” Wade said.
Property and violence have been front and centre in Operation Hobart, and Barletta’s name keeps popping up.
Two years ago, a suspected arson destroyed a Blue Mountain vacation property owned by a woman believed to be Barletta’s mother.
That prompted the launch of Operation Hobart, and an investigation into an alleged multimillion-dollar gambling operation police contend was run by members of the Hells Angels and an alleged Toronto crime family. (The Blue Mountain property was not among those seized in this latest round of arrests, Wade said.)
In 2019, during the Operation Hobart investigation, Hell Angels member Michael Deabauta-Schulde, 32, was killed outside a Mississauga gym. Police contend Deabauta-Schulde was a member of the same illegal gambling operation investigated in Operation Hobart. Three Montreal men are charged with first-degree murder in Deabauta-Schulde’s death.
In December 2020, about 12 hours after the OPP announced the arrests of Barletta and a female friend, among others, the woman’s $1-million house on Commissioners Road near Ridout Street in London caught on fire, another blaze fire officials called suspicious.
The roots of Operation Hobart go back to the police bust of the Platinum Sports Book gambling operation in 2013, which police say grossed more than $103 million in five years. Police say Operation Hobart and Platinum are connected, but have not elaborated.
Barletta was charged in 2013 with bookmaking and possessing proceeds of a crime. But the charges against Barletta were withdrawn in January 2017, the same day a co-accused admitted in court he was administrator of the Platinum Sports Book ring and pleaded guilty to a charge of bookmaking as participation in a criminal organization.
The court result seemed to justify Barletta’s nickname as the “Teflon biker,” someone who had kept a clean record while co-founding and for a time running the London chapter of the Hells Angels.
The only legal setback for Barletta during that time was losing his liquor licence for Famous Flesh Gordon’s, a strip club on Dundas Street.
But sources tell The Free Press Barletta has enemies.
Wade would not comment on any specific threats to Barletta, who has been out on bail since the December arrests and is not in custody on the recent charges.
But “there is a lot of violence in the outlaw motorcycle world and specifically in this organized crime group, within and without,” Wade said, noting the investigation began with an arson two years ago.
Besides several police departments and specialized units, ranging from city forces to the RCMP and Surete du Quebec, the latest investigation included members of the Canada Revenue Agency and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.
The complexity of organized crime demands an equally comprehensive response from law enforcement, Wade said.
“They work together. They have no borders. If we don’t share information and intelligence, we’re not going to succeed,” he said.