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Burned down home 3rd linked to Hells Angels

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A multimillion-dollar Georgian Bay home burned down this month, the third house linked to a police crackdown on an alleged outlaw biker gambling ring to go up in flames in three years. It also had ties to three money-laundering suspects, including the founder and past president of London’s Hells Angels chapter. Journalists Greg Cowan, Dale Carruthers and Randy Richmond report.

THORNBURY — A luxury home destroyed in a recent fire here had been restrained in a police crackdown on an alleged Hells Angels gambling ring and has connections to three men charged with money laundering, The London Free Press and Owen Sound Sun-Times have learned.

The high-end home on Georgian Bay — the third house connected to the investigation destroyed by fire in the past three years — was developed and built by two Thornbury-area men charged with laundering proceeds of crime in the ongoing criminal probe.

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One of the men has real estate connections to London’s Barletta family, which includes Rob Barletta,  founder and past president of the London Hells Angels chapter, who also is charged with laundering proceeds of crime, the Free Press-Sun-times probe has found.

The five-bedroom home at 189 Lake Dr., west of Collingwood, had just sold for $7.9 million when fire ripped through it last Monday, Jan. 11, leaving a charred skeleton standing and rumours swirling in the lakeside community.

Ontario Fire Marshal investigators spent last week at the burned-out home, and the OPP says it’s also investigating, but neither has made any determinations yet, they said.

Homebuilder Michael Curtis, 37, and developer Douglas Lang Adams, 58, were charged in July with money laundering and possessing proceeds of crime as part of 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.

Barletta, 51, faces 25 charges, including bookmaking, laundering proceeds of crime, fraud over $5,000 and committing an offence for a criminal organization.

Thirty-five people, including three other Londoners, were charged with a combined 257 offences related to guns, gambling, participating in organized crime and tax evasion in the sweeping probe that involved 18 law enforcement agencies and led to the seizure of $36 million in assets.

The Jan. 11 fire came just more than a year after a house at 203 Commissioners Rd. E., in London was gutted by a fire that police ruled suspicious less than a week after its owner, Habiba Kajan, 44, was charged with gun and bookmaking offences as part of Hobart. No arrests have been made in the blaze.

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Court-ordered restraints were placed on the London and Thornbury homes on July 29, 2020 — the same day police announced charges against Curtis and Adams — restricting their sale or transfer while the police investigation is underway.

Operation Hobart itself was prompted by a Jan. 5, 2018, blaze at 363 Sunset Blvd. in Thornbury, the OPP say. That property is 4.5 kilometres away — a seven-minute drive — from 189 Lake Dr.

New documents obtained by The Free Press and Sun-Times also reveal new connections between the Sunset Boulevard property and Adams, the Barlettas and Curtis.

The latest fire has the head of the OPP’s biker enforcement unit concerned.

“I don’t have any specific information about them being targeted, but it would be a natural assumption because of the link and the history involved,” Staff Sgt. Scott Wade said of the London and Thornbury fires.

“So, yes, it is concerning, but again, it just highlights the ongoing violence, threat of violence association with outlaw motorcycle gangs.”

Douglas Adams agreed to an interview for this story. He said he did not know what caused the Lake Drive fire.

Michael Curtis did not respond to interview requests left with his company staff, on his company voice- and email, and on his personal Facebook and Linkedin pages.

Corporate records show Douglas Adams is the director of The Artisan on Lora Bay Inc., the company that owns a 2.5-hectare parcel of waterfront property west of Collingwood that includes 189 Lake Dr. That property is sometimes referred to as Artisan 1, the first of five homes to be built on the parcel.

Property records show Adams obtained the property in 2016 and sold it two years later for $2.37 million to The Artisan on Lora Bay Inc.

An engineering report for the site was completed for Adams in March 2017 and includes a Feb. 13, 2017, email from Adams to a consulting engineer about removal of trees on the site.

Copied on the email are “RB Cell Barletta” and “Matt Rodgers.”

The first email address could be a reference to Rob Barletta.

The second email address could be a reference to Matthew Ryan Rodgers, a London father of five left in a coma after being shot in the leg and head following a brief scuffle with two men in an Oakville restaurant parking lot on Aug. 4, 2017.

A Montreal man was sentenced to prison for attempted murder.

Police suspect Rodgers, then 35, was associated with the Hells Angels, involved in the London chapter of a support club, and involved in drug trafficking, the trial heard.

In an interview, Adams denied any involvement in money laundering or gambling, or any association with the Hells Angels.

“I have an investor that is under investigation that invested in The Artisan from the start, and it was unbeknownst to me what was going on. That’s all I know,” he said.

Adams said he wasn’t able to comment on whether Rob Barletta was the unnamed investor in The Artisan on Lora Bay Inc.

“I’m devastated by this. I’m taken aback and I am very hurt by it. . . . I just want them to find out what the cause of it is and get this resolved immediately,” Adams said.

A draft plan for the five-lot Artisan subdivision, which included a private road and common open space, was approved by the County of Grey on Jan. 17, 2018. That approval was set to lapse on Jan. 11, 2021 — the date of the fire.

Randy Scherzer, Grey County’s planning director, confirmed the draft approval had lapsed, and that to reinstate it the landowner would need to submit a new application.

Adams said he was not involved in the draft plan of the subdivision, saying his engineer and architect, Michael Curtis of Thornbury’s Verge Select, was “taking care of all of that.”

Verge Select, founded by Curtis, designed Artisan 1, the 9,000-square-foot home at 189 Lake Dr.

Site preparation began in November 2017, with construction completed some time in 2020, according to the frequent updates on the Verge Select Instagram account.

“The project is not influenced by trend but rather nature and we anticipate this concept will prove successful in creating a series of residential properties that endure through time,” Curtis said in a 2019 article in Invest in Style, a real estate magazine.

The article notes the sturdy construction and impressive design, reporting that anchoring piles were sunk more than 21 metres into the soil and rocky substrate to form a base for concrete and steel beams, a concrete slab platform and double walls with space between, called cavity walls, rising to a steel roof.

“Take in full panoramic views of Georgian Bay from a wall of waterside windows featuring locally sourced 24-foot (7.3-m) glass panels and a 42-foot (12.8-m) glass elevator shaft,” an ad for the home stated.

Other features included six-metre ceilings in the master suite, dining and living areas and 3.7-metre ceilings on the main level and the walkout, a 7.3-metre cantilevered deck, heated driveway, three-car garage, and gas fireplaces on each level.

In a Dec. 12, 2020, Instagram post, Verge announced the house was sold to a “lovely couple that will soon become friends,” and interior finishings and furniture selection would start.

In a Jan. 7 post — four days before the fire — Verge announced the new clients “went firm” and the deal was official.

It’s not known when the deal was to close, and property records do not yet indicate the sale.

The home was listed for $7 million by Sotheby’s Canada. The listing agent confirmed a deal had “firmed up” just days before the Jan. 11 fire.

Adams said the house sold for $7.9 million after taxes, adding he doesn’t know the buyer.

The OPP’s Wade said he’s aware of the recent sale of the property, adding sales of restricted properties are allowed only under certain conditions. “If it is sold, the money is still tracked.”

There are several connections between the Barletta family, Adams and Curtis involving this property.

Adams sold a lot at 363 Sunset Blvd. to Salvatrice Barletta in May 2015 for $250,000, according to property records.

Adams confirmed he sold the Sunset Drive lot to her while he was a partner in a Lora Bay development featuring hundreds of luxury cottages surrounding a PGA-level golf course with views over Georgian Bay.

Salvatrice Barletta is the mother of former London Hells Angels president Robert Barletta.

On Jan. 5, 2018, a fire destroyed what media reports described as a luxury cottage worth $1 million. Police ruled the fire suspicious, but no arrests have been made in the case.

According to records from the Town of the Blue Mountains, a permit to demolish the house was issued Jan. 15, 2018, at an estimated cost of $100,000.

During construction of the house at 189 Lake Dr., Verge Select’s Instagram account posted several photos showing the progress. An account with the photo of Michelle Barletta — Rob Barletta’s wife — and a shortened version of her name exchanged several friendly comments with Verge Select about the construction.

In an Instagram chat on June 13, 2019, Verge Select posted an artist’s rendering of a new home to be built on Sunset Boulevard.

“Awaiting client input . . .,” the message from Curtis’s company said.

“Meh, it’s OK! Lol,” the account with Michelle Barletta’s photo replied, with a wink emoji.

An application regarding construction of a new house, garage, patio and pool at 363 Sunset reached municipal politicians in fall 2019.

That application included a site design with the name Michael Curtis on it.

The property owner’s name is not attached to the application, though records show today that it still belongs to Salvatrice Barletta.

Phone listings link the property to an M. Barletta. It’s not known if that refers to Michelle Barletta.

Operation Hobart itself was prompted by a Jan. 5, 2018, blaze at 363 Sunset Blvd. in Thornbury, the OPP say.

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