Toronto Star, March 9, 2004
By Cal Millar, Staff reporter
A sophisticated marijuana growing operation has been discovered by Toronto police in eight apartment units high above Parkdale.
The operation, which yielded 800 marijuana plants and more than $50,000 in specialized equipment, included drilling holes between apartment units to connect hydro wires and carting in enough bags of soil "to fill a farmer's field."
"Due to the sophistication, we believe organized crime is in all likelihood involved," Detective Howie Page told a news conference yesterday at 14 Division, near Dundas St. W. and Dovercourt Rd.
Members of the division's vice squad made the discovery when security staff at the apartment complex on West Lodge Ave. found a break-in had occurred at one of the units.
Page said it appears a rival gang had broken into the apartment and stolen most of the marijuana crop being produced in a hydroponics operation, set up in the two-bedroom unit on the building's 18th floor.
That investigation led police to discover the full scale of the operation.
"This appears to be a competitive drug rip-off," he said.
Police at first believed that only one apartment unit in the building was being used to grow marijuana but discovered holes had been drilled through the concrete floor to connect hydro wires and an irrigation system to a similar operation in the unit below.
Page said investigators located operations in two other apartments in the same building and four other units of a neighbouring building, all on the upper floors.
He said electrical wiring strung through the apartment units to power high-intensity lights posed a fire hazard, and there was a potential for violence if those involved in the growing operation ever confronted a rival gang stealing the crop.
It's "troubling" to police, he said, that criminals set up extremely dangerous grow operations in apartment buildings that are filled with children.
"This is a public-safety issue," he said. "These buildings have kids on every single floor. These are family dwelling units."
Page said it's conceivable there would have been a great deal of violence if those ripping off the drugs were confronted by those who were growing them.
"It's quite (disconcerting) to us because of the violence that's involved in regard to these marijuana grow operations," he said.
Page said no consideration was given to safety.
"As soon as you entered into the apartment, there was a dangerous hydro set-up," the detective said.
"When we walked in two feet into that doorway, we were met with hanging electrical wire that was live," Page said. "It was all live. There were hundreds and hundreds of feet of cable going through the apartment."
The police investigation showed the wiring had been hooked up with timers to hydro outlets that operated the stoves in the apartment units. Page said the light bulbs used in the operation would explode if improperly handled or dropped.
Inside the units, police found that metal and wooden panels had been used to construct separate rooms for growing marijuana, harvesting mature plants and packaging products.
Each apartment was also equipped with an elaborate exhaust system to vent odours to the outside, and air fresheners and mothballs were used to mask fumes and disguise the operation, Page said.
The doors in some units were nailed shut and windows blocked off to prevent anyone from seeing the operations.
The units were also filled with mould, making them dangerous for a hydroponic operation, Page said.
Damage to the apartments is estimated at $150,000.
Page said there were no occupants and the units were set up strictly to grow, harvest and package marijuana in 454-gram bags that sell for just under $3,000 on Toronto streets.
The investigation showed some units had been operating for a few months, with plants ranging from two-thirds of a metre to 1.8 metres in height, but others had just been set up. One unit may have only been operating from a few hours to a couple of days, Page said.
The marijuana from the growing operation was of extremely high quality and Page said those growing the plants knew what they were doing.
Despite the elaborate precautions taken to conceal the operation, Page said he's surprised people in the buildings didn't notice equipment being brought in or complain about the noise from the drilling and construction carried out to convert the apartments to grow operations.
"There was lots of drilling, but we didn't receive a noise complaint," he said. "There were also large bags of soil being brought into the apartment building. There was enough to fill a farmer's field with soil within the eight residences."
Page said he thinks marijuana grow operations are set up in apartment buildings because people come and go at all hours and no one seems to notice.
He suggested residents have to pay more attention and call police if they see anything suspicious. "We need the help of the public."
No arrests have been made, but Page said an investigation is under way to identify the people who leased the apartments.
Police have the name of an individual who leased a couple of units, but they haven't been able to track down the person. "We don't know if it's a fake name," Page said. "We don't know what type of identification was needed to sign the lease."