Pubdate: Wed, 14 Jan 2004
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Kevin Connor and Jason Botchford


How Did Huge Grow Operation Go Undetected?

Barrie civic officials need to investigate how a marijuana grow operation 
was able to set up in one of the city's largest buildings under the radar 
of municipal building inspectors and permit issuers, a councillor says. "We 
are looking into it and working with police services," said Barrie 
Councillor Steve Trotter, three days after police busted the $30-million 
grow operation at the former Molson brewery plant.

"The system is built on the honour system," he added. "People are obligated 
to get permits."

Rumours about marijuana production in the plant go back to last year when 
it was a popular topic of conversation among crews who worked on film 
productions in the same building.

Newnew Films Ontario produced commercials in the fall at the plant for the 
German company BiFi, which produces pepperoni sticks.

"You just knew someone was producing pot in there," said a man who worked 
on the site last year for a commercial film production and requested anonymity.

"There were these huge steel doors that must have blocked off the marijuana 
from us but everyone talked about it.

"All day long you would see these strange people walking in and out of the 
place and everyone knew there was no beer being produced. The lights set 
up, the way the plant was put together, it was a perfect place for a 
marijuana operation. The rumours were rampant that it was a massive 
marijuana factory."

There were parts of the plant where access was strictly denied, John 
Bardwell, a location scouter for the film company said, adding there were 
security checkpoints to enter the facility.

Jamie Massie with Georgian Pontiac Buick GMC Inc. said he rented space at 
the plant for his excess vehicles because the owners -- Fercan Developments 
Inc, which did not return calls yesterday -- had their own employees as 
security guards which made him feel secure his property would be safe.

'Extremely Surprising'

"It was a security bonus. There was always a guard watching things. I did 
always wonder why the place wasn't being developed."

No one was more surprised to find out what was growing in the Barrie plant 
than James and Nancy Kelly, owners of a trucking company that rents space 
in the old factory.

"I could not fathom anything like that going on there," said James Kelly, 
owner of Karlea Transport. "It's extremely surprising."

Karlea's office space is at the north end of the old Molson building, about 
500 metres away from the huge grow operation.

"I didn't even know that end of the building was occupied," Kelly said.

Karlea used the office space and the loading docks in the building, and 
never saw anything strange at all. Kelly said they've seen a lot of the 
building because they would sometimes walk through the area belonging to 
Aurora Beverages to get to the loading dock.

Kelly said there are 12 loading docks at the plant and it's an open space, 
not sectioned off.

"If they had been doing it during the day we would have seen it," he said. 
"The only thing I've ever seen is machinery from the water plant."

Truck Impounded

Kelly now has a bigger concern. One of his trucks is impounded and his 
customer list is trapped inside the cordoned-off building. He's not sure 
how long it might be before he gets his truck back. Police have told him it 
could be as long as nine weeks before the area reopens.

"If that happens we can't survive," he said. "The banks will want their money."

He also said it's been implied that the trucking companies were being used 
to move the marijuana.

"That's out-and-out false," Kelly said.

The Kellys only knew two of the other businesses in the 39,000-square-metre 
plant, National Roasters, a coffee company, and Aurora Beverages, managed 
by Vince DeRosa, who also runs Fercan Development, the company that owns 
the old Molson plant.

The men charged in the pot bust have been ordered not to associate with 
DeRosa, or his brother Robert, as part of their bail conditions. The 
DeRosas have not been charged.

Again yesterday, no one at Fercan would comment on the charges or the 
marijuana operation at the plant, only saying they were unaware of what was 
happening inside.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman