Pubdate: Thu, 29 May 2014
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The Toronto Star
Author: Wendy Gillis and Graham Slaughter
Page: GT4


Weapons, illegal drugs and large sums of cash confiscated in wide

One is linked to the shooting that had bullets flying inside the
bustling Eaton Centre food court in June 2012, killing two men and
injuring six, including a 13-year-old boy.

The other is connected to an execution-style killing outside Yorkdale
Shopping Centre last spring, in which a killer waited in the parking
lot for his intended targets.

Both gangs - known as Sic Thugs and Asian Assassinz - are "incredibly
ruthless" and "sophisticated" rivals whose reach across Toronto is
atypical of street-level crews, which usually have a small "criminal
footprint," according to police.

As a result, early morning raids targeting the gangs Wednesday took
place across the city, including Regent Park, Liberty Village and
North York, and outside the GTA.

Officers from police forces across southern Ontario ultimately
arrested more than 50 people and confiscated nine guns, along with
cocaine, heroin, marijuana and large amounts of cash.

A total of 20 guns and 30 people had been arrested in the lead-up to
the raids, the culmination of year-long investigations dubbed Projects
RX and Battery.

Charges laid include criminal organization, trafficking of firearms,
drugs and humans; firearm possession; armed robbery; and conspiracy to
commit robbery. Because the gangs are believed to be tied to shootings
across the city, homicide charges may be laid, Acting Police Chief
Mark Saunders told a news conference Wednesday.

Susan von Acthen, the lawyer representing many suspects arrested in
Regent Park on Wednesday, says there are so many charges of conspiracy
to traffic cocaine or marijuana that she has "lost count."

As for gang involvement, von Acthen called it "nonsense."

"There is absolutely no gang affiliation. These are people who have
known each other over the years on and off. There is not a gang," she
said during a smoke break outside a Finch Ave. court, where many raid
cases were heard Wednesday.

Originally a barrister in England who has been representing clients
from Regent Park for over a decade, Von Acthen said she has doubts
about the gang investigations.

"They're talking nonsense. They really ought to talk to me to learn
what's going on the streets," she said.

While Saunders did not go into detail about the nature of the gangs'
rivalry, Michael Chettleburgh, a Toronto gangs and youth crimes
expert, said it's a matter of drug turf in a "very competitive market."

"That's always what it comes down to, for those two crews there no other 
financial enterprises that they engage in, other than largely drug 
sales," he said.

Based out of Regent Park, the Sic Thugs have been on the police radar 
for years, believed to have come out of the now-defunct Point Blank 
Soldiers gang, which was linked to the 2005 Boxing Day shooting death of 
bystander Jane Creba.

Shortly after the June 2012 Eaton Centre shooting, sources told the Star 
that accused shooter Christopher Husbands and both victims, Ahmed Hassan 
amd Nixon Nirmalendran, were both members of the Sic Thugs gang and that 
the shooting had been the result of internal gang strife.

Less than a year later, police said, two men gunned down outside 
Yorkdale Shopping Centre in April 2013 - one of whom, 23-year-old 
Michael Nguyen, was killed - were known members of the "violent" Asian 
Assassinz gang.

At a news conference Wednesday, Saunders said both gangs have 
demonstrated a heightened level of sophistication and organization, 
prompting an increase in the level of law enforcement.

But Chettleburgh said he's seeing the opposite: smaller crews, which 
don't display what used to be the hallmarks of well-organized gangs a 
decade ago, such as gang signs, tattoos and dress codes.

"All that stuff is gone. We see more fragmentation than ever before . 
less sophistication," he said.

Where there is a degree of organization, he said, is with street-level 
crews developing collaborative relationships with organized crime for 
the wholesale supply of drugs.

Wednesday's early-morning raids were a shock to many in the buildings 
invaded by heavily armed police shouting down the halls and leading 
suspects out of residences in handcuffs.

"There were men yelling, `Clear! Clear!'" said Beth Harris, a resident 
of 125 Western Battery Rd., a highrise in Liberty Village that was searched.

"At first I thought they were gunshots," said Bonnie Malec, 33. "They 
broke down a door."

At a home in North York, police entered the residence of 85-year-old 
Collis Ambrose and his wife Pamela, 83. According to their son Wayne, 
police "ransacked" the place.

"They had their guns in their faces," he said. "The place is a mess."

Asked why the police would have wanted to search the address, Ambrose 
said his nephew sometimes stays there - "I don't know if he was involved 
in something or what," he said.

Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash confirmed that police had search 
the house and seized drugs while seeking someone at that address who 
could be facing "extremely serious" charges involving guns and drugs.

"The issue here is that we had evidence that appears to be accurate that 
he was there, and spent time there," he said.

"One of the points I think needs to be made is: If you are living with 
people who are involved in an extremely dangerous lifestyle, then you 
have to consider what the implications of that are," Pugash said.

With files from Paul Clarke and Katelyn Verstraten
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