Pubdate: Thu, 15 Jan 2004
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell and Roberta Avery


Brewery, Former Shopping Mall Had Been Rented Out

OPP Will Be `Looking Into That Coincidence'

BARRIE-Two buildings where massive indoor marijuana grow operations
were discovered during raids last weekend are owned by real estate
magnate Vince De Rosa, police confirmed yesterday.

"He owns both spots and there's marijuana growing at both spots. We'll
definitely be looking into that coincidence," Staff Sergeant Rick
Barnum of the Ontario Provincial Police said yesterday.

De Rosa's Fercan Developments, a Toronto-based real estate management
company, owns the landmark former Molson brewery where police seized
30,000 plants from a vast hydroponic growing operation thought to be
the largest uncovered in North America.

Police executed a second search warrant Saturday at another well-known
location for cottage commuters, a one-time shopping mall complex once
anchored by Fuda's supermarket, where they seized 3,000 more
hydroponic pot plants.

The building, at 2921 Highway 11, in Oro-Medonte Township, is owned by
1071118 Ontario Ltd., land registry records indicate.

Corporate company records show that 1071118 Ontario Ltd. is another of
De Rosa's companies.

"We'll definitely be looking to speak to Mr. De Rosa and find out why
it would happen; that's pretty logical," Barnum said.

There are about a half-dozen businesses in Oro Centre complex,
including a Canada Post office and a bailiff's office.

Fercan Developments owns a number of properties across southern
Ontario, including Hamilton's City Centre.

De Rosa has not returned calls from the Star.

But Fercan executive Italo Ferrari has repeatedly denied knowing
anything about the marijuana operation and has said they're landlords
to many properties.

"We don't know who comes and who goes," he said.

The high-tech marijuana factory inside the brewery escaped attention
for more than a year, police said, despite being next to Highway 400.

According to Barrie's chief building official, Gord Allison, no
building permit applications were made by Fercan after purchasing the
building for $8 million in 2001, even though it housed a number of
businesses along with the marijuana grow operation.

"The way that Molson's had it set up, the building was already divided
into areas big enough to accommodate different businesses," said Allison.

With no building permit application, "there was no reason for us to
conduct inspections," he said.

The Barrie fire department inspected the building after Fercan
purchased it and found it in good order, said assistant fire chief
Cynthia Ross Tustin.

"There was no reason for us to go back in there. It's not like a
nursing home, for example, where we make regular inspections. This was
a steel and concrete building with a sprinkler system."

Police video footage showed a high-wired tropical jungle of marijuana
plants, grown through computer-controlled environments that included
the use of giant beer vats as hothouses for germinating seeds.

Yesterday, between 40 and 50 officers continued their investigation
inside the Molson plant.

"We're going to be in there for a while," Barnum said.

At the Barrie courthouse yesterday, federal crown attorney Karen
Jokinen was granted a retroactive publication ban on Tuesday's hearing
for the eight men charged in connection with the raid on the former
brewery and released on bail. The search warrants were also sealed.
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