Pubdate: Tue, 13 Jan 2004
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell and Roberta Avery
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Say Millions Spent On Brewery Reno

'Factory' Pot Worth $100M A Year

BARRIE-Cutting-edge technology was used at Canada's largest indoor
marijuana factory to avoid detection and to grow thousands of illicit
plants inside a former Molson brewery, police say.

An estimated 30,000 plants - estimated to be worth $30 million - in
various stages of production were discovered by police in the raid at
the landmark for southern Ontario commuters. Many of the plants were
blossoming inside 25 beer vats that had been converted for incubation.

The operators used an "extremely sophisticated" and professional
growing system that turned the giant vats into hot houses filled with
hundreds of hydroponic plants, police said.

They used a filtration system that pumped air into the vats and also
sucked out the scented air, filtering it and sending it into a
self-contained room so the unmistakable aroma was not noticeable.

Police estimate that several million dollars were spent turning about
half of the 11,250-square-metre building next to Highway 400 into a
sophisticated and staggering marijuana grow operation.

"They needed electrical engineers, heating duct specialists. This is a
big-box configuration, not a ma-and-pa operation," said Barrie City
Police Chief Wayne Frechette.

A police video of the raid showed a tropical jungle of marijuana plant
rows stretching into the distance of the vast building. Other shots
showed plants squashed into every available space, on tables, on desks
and on the floor. Huge drawers used to dry the harvested marijuana
were visible, each one brimming with buds.

The "factory" that operated around the clock and was capable of
producing $100-million worth of marijuana annually, likely destined
for the international market, had been in operation for at least one
year, said OPP Deputy Commissioner Vaughn Collins.

"There's everything from seed to packaged plants for distribution. I
suspect we'll be in there for weeks gathering evidence, and our
forensic people will be in there for several weeks more dismantling
it," said OPP Superintendent Bill Crate.

"There's miles and miles and miles of electrical wire and water hoses.
It's incredible."

A former tenant who ran a business from the complex said another of
the companies would continually roast coffee beans, which would also
mask any smell.

The tenant said internal loading docks - there are external docks as
well - would allow the possibility of shipping out products undercover.

And even though the site is visible to thousands of daily commuters,
it also provided adequate camouflage, say authorities.

The windowless building has parkland on the east and north sides,
Highway 400 to the west and trees to the south, so is not overlooked
by other businesses apart from a seasonal garden centre, which is
presently closed.

"It's on Highway 400 but the fact of the matter is it's very isolated
to the east, to the south and to the north," said Nancy Tuckett,
Barrie's director of economic development.

"There's no residential development anywhere to take issue with odours
or anything. There's no one around really in the vicinity other than
the plant itself so yes, it sounds surprising but the truth be known
there's nothing within several hundred metres of the plant."

Police said they are still trying to determine if the huge amount of
hydro needed to operate the thousands of lights, heating and watering
systems was stolen.

But George Todd, president of Barrie Hydro, said that there was only
one electric meter in the building.

Toodd said that the amount of electricity used was considerably less
than when the old Molson brewery was in operation.

"There was nothing unusual to alert anyone to what was going on in
there," said Todd.

Police also found dormitory-style living accommodations for up to 50

The elaborate living arrangments came complete with amenities like
beds, televisions, fridges, stoves and an eating area.

Vicar Properties, now known as Fercan Developments, bought the
property for $8 million on Oct. 5, 2001 from Molson Breweries. On
Sept. 25, 2003 a $3-million mortgage was registered.

"We sold the place three years ago. We have no comment," said David
Jones, a spokesperson for Molson.

Fercan Developments owns a number of buildings across southern
Ontario, including the Hamilton City Centre, and last fall donated the
campaign office space for Larry Di Ianni, who became Hamilton's mayor.

"We can not always get up there to check," Italo Ferrari, Fercan's
general manager, told the Hamilton Spectator when asked how such a
massive operation could take place without him knowing.

"We have properties all over Southern Ontario."

Police said the company leased the Barrie space to about half a dozen
businesses, including trucking companies and a bottling company.

A former tenant didn't suspect anything, but in hindsight now realizes
there were obvious signs.

Aside from the people living at the plan - "I figured they had nowhere
else to go" - the former tenant now suspects the need for 24-hour
security, the boiler blowing up one day and constant mechanical
upgrades for a paucity of products being shipped from the site.

"There were tonnes of skids of coffee beans.

"That and marble tile," said the tenant.

"I never saw anything go out the door. I saw it coming

Police say that a second marijuana grow operation discovered at a
commercial plaza at 4921 Hwy 11 North in Oro-Medonte Township, just
north of Barrie - where officers seized approximately 3,000 more
marijuana plants - is linked to the operation in the former brewery.

A total of nine people have been charged with production and
possession of marijuana in connection with the brewery raid.

Charged are:

Michael DiCicco, 60, of Toronto, Robert Bleich, 29, of Stayner, Scott
Walker, 34, of St. Catharines, Zoran Stojanovic, 49, of St.
Catharines, Tomas Gates, 33, of Corunna, Ont., Craig Walker, 24, of
Niagara Falls, Ont., Scott Dillon, 23, of Toronto, Rayne Sauve, 36, of
St. Catharines and Edward MacAdam, 43, of Niagara Falls, Ont.

All those charged are being held for a bail hearing in Barrie court,
which is scheduled for this morning.

Police would not say if their raid was the result of a tip, only that
they anticipate more charges.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin