House of Cards
When York police raided an underground casino in a Markham mansion, it was their biggest gambling bust ever. Then their investigation came crashing down
The house at 5 Decourcy Court is a glittering stone behemoth on a quiet Markham boulevard near Major Mackenzie Road. The property has 20,000 square feet of living space on a two-acre lot, with parking for 24 cars and annual property taxes of $52,000. The exterior is an ahistorical architectural fusion of neoclassical columns and mock-Regency arched windows, finished with the tiled roof of an Italian palazzo. The interior, meanwhile, is fit for a rococo duchess with modern Kardashian needs. There are two kitchens, eight bedrooms, 16 bathrooms, a swimming pool, a whirlpool, a library, a ballroom and an elevator. A pair of baby copper elephants flank the grand front door.
A wealthy property developer named Wei Wei purchased the house six years ago for $4.7 million. It came with lush details: the banisters gilded to a gleaming finish, the high-end appliances humming, the gardens landscaped with shrubbery. It seemed all Wei needed to do when he bought the place was furnish it in baroque reproductions and chlorinate the pool.
Instead, he embarked on months of extensive renovations. The crowning detail, approved by the province nearly two and a half years after the purchase, was a septic sewage system capable of processing 12,700 litres per day—the size generally used by large hotels. Why would a private family residence need a commercial sewage system? It’s a question government officials apparently did not bother to ask.
According to York Regional Police, the house at 5 Decourcy wasn’t purchased as a family home. The cops say the mansion was destined for an astonishingly brazen purpose: to be an underground gambling den, booze can and supper club. As pleasure palaces go, 5 Decourcy is a monument to the unregulated indulgence that big money can buy, even—perhaps especially—in the austerity of a pandemic. According to police, the mansion would become the site of an orgy of illicit decadence, one that allegedly raged on unnoticed for months. When the cops raided the place in July 2020, it was poised to be their biggest casino bust ever—until the whole investigation fell disastrously apart.
The story of Wei Wei begins in Hefei, a city in China’s landlocked Anhui province. Back in 2004, Wei was an enterprising young project manager at Feidong Shuian, a beleaguered Hefei construction firm focused on public water infrastructure. According to the company website, Feidong Shuian was faltering at the time, plagued by debt, weak leadership and fierce competition from the global market.
China’s economic boom had not yet made its way to Hefei. The population hovered just under two million—barely a city in Chinese terms. Through hundreds of years of dynasties, and even the seismic change of the Cultural Revolution, Hefei’s economy remained largely untouched. It was a poor, agrarian market town surrounded by verdant fields of rice and wheat. Wei was just a middle manager at the time, but he was also full of ideas. He took charge, elevating his own role and restructuring the company to focus on property development and construction. His actions were decisive. He moved the firm into Hefei’s city centre and folded it into a new company called Anhui Tonji Construction Group. Soon, he was appointed chairman.
For all of Wei’s ambition, he knew how to toe the line. In business and in private life, he was a strategic conformist. He married a woman named Xiang Yue, and the couple later had a daughter and a son. Wei stoically played the role of family man and local captain of industry as Tonji’s fortunes grew.
And Wei was about to strike it lucky: around the time he launched Tonji, the Chinese government embarked on a plan to beautify Hefei. Thousands of homes in the city were condemned and razed, and a glittering mega-metropolis sprang up in their place. After its rebirth, Hefei’s population doubled in less than a decade. A vast flock of cranes stretched out across the skyline. Incomes rose, and Chao Lake, known locally as “the land of plenty” for its vast stock of crabs and prawns, became an industrial sludge pit. Tonji won several major development contracts, and profits soared.
In the meantime, Wei was planning his exit from China. About a decade ago, he was granted entry to Canada, possibly as part of the now-defunct Immigrant Investor Program, which was invented to attract wealthy foreigners to invest and settle in Canada—or at the very least maintain a home and business here. Applicants were required to demonstrate that they had a personal net worth of at least $1.6 million, and make a guaranteed investment of $800,000 of their own funds over five years.
In Toronto, Wei sought to build on his success. He and Xiang Yue purchased a multi-million-dollar mansion with six bedrooms and nine bathrooms on Woodland Acres Crescent in Vaughan. Xiang Yue, meanwhile, co-signed her daughter’s purchase of a new Mercedes-Benz.
Wei quickly established himself as a property developer. He now runs several investment firms with vaguely cosmic names like Starryway and Skywalk. His properties include several luxury residences, plus two large hotels—including the Edward Hotel in Markham—which he reportedly purchased for a combined $75 million with his business partner Yongtao Chen, a Vancouver property magnate. Xiang Yue is also a player in the family business, listed as a director of at least two of her husband’s companies.
One of Wei’s biggest acquisitions was a 92-acre swath of land just outside of Stouffville, within walking distance of the Lincolnville GO stop. One of his companies, Tondream, paid $50 million for the land parcel, which is being transformed into a residential subdivision called Elm Villa. It’s marketed as “a major new master-planned community” with communal green spaces and access to nearby parks and trails. The development, geared toward first-time buyers and seniors looking to downsize, features townhouses and mid-rise apartment buildings spread out over several square blocks straddling the GO line.
Wei wasn’t just making money in his new country, but also making connections. In May of 2016, he was photographed with Justin Trudeau at a $1,500-a-plate Liberal fundraiser attended by influential donors. He was also a member of a delegation representing a Chinese industry group that later met separately with Trudeau; one member of the delegation donated $1 million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the Université de Montréal Faculty of Law.
A few years after buying the mansion at 5 Decourcy, police claim Wei began transforming the place into an opulent private members’ club. One of his associates posted a number of staff recruitment ads on YorkBBS, an Internet forum popular with Chinese students in the Toronto area. The first one invited applications from “Ladies only!”—specifically those with “good image and deportment” and excellent communication skills, for “marketing sales PR direction for high-end clubhouse.” Wei’s associate would go on to place several more ads, mostly targeting attractive young women for well-paid server positions.
In November 2019, the mansion officially opened its doors with a lavish launch party. The embossed invitation described the event as a “soft opening cocktail party” for an exclusive private members’ club called Mackenzie No. 5. According to an anonymous source who was there, the guest list included a number of GTA politicians. The mansion allegedly housed its own restaurant, which offered a lavish menu of traditional Chinese dishes with an emphasis on seafood delicacies, including braised whole shark fin. According to police, there was $1.5 million worth of alcohol kept behind the bar.
Though Mackenzie No. 5 billed itself as a private members’ club, police later claimed it was really one of many illegal gaming houses in and around Toronto. In the first half of 2020, as the city retreated into Covid lockdown, police say this side of the operation ramped up. Professional casino tables were installed and staff were hired to run them. The main ballroom, styled like a Vegas hotel, offered roulette and baccarat at $20,000 per hand. A handful of tables were devoted to high-stakes games of Texas hold ’em, and there was a separate space for mah-jong. Lower-stakes players were relegated to a grim, windowless, fluorescent-lit room in the basement, kitted out with dozens of blinking slot machines as well as cryptocurrency gambling.
There was also an arsenal of firearms, including semi-automatics, stored in two on-site gun safes. The guns were likely an insurance policy—casinos, especially underground ones, are often targeted for robberies. For additional security, there was an extensive surveillance system and three heavies hired to stand guard. Before joining Mackenzie No. 5, the three bouncers did amateur competitive heavyweight wrestling on the side. Police surveillance footage from summer 2020 shows the men entertaining themselves by practising tombstone piledrivers on each other on the front lawn.
Given the abundance of evidence and the brazenness of the operation, York police thought conviction would be a breeze. They were wrong.
Superintendent Michael Slack of York Regional Police is in his early 50s, an affable cop with an easy smile and a self-deprecating sense of humour. He wears rectangular glasses and a pressed black tie with his button-down cop shirt. He looks more like the sort of guy you might hire to manage your investment portfolio than one who supervises heavily armed SWAT teams to bust into the lairs of mafia kingpins. He’s been with the force for 32 years, spending half of that time investigating organized crime and doing lengthy secondments for the RCMP. In the spring of last year, during the height of the first lockdown, several complaints came to his attention. Something weird was going on in one of the mansions on the north edge of Markham.
One call came in from a passerby, and soon there were more of them, from dog-walkers and joggers out for their daily trips around the block. People noticed delivery trucks sliding in and out of the mansion’s gates, and crates of what looked to be food and liquor being loaded inside. At night, every light in the 53-room mansion blazed bright, peeking from the edges of the heavy, drawn curtains. A convoy of luxury cars was often parked in the front drive. Security guards manned the gates, and uniformed staff appeared to come and go in shifts. A succession of guests—too many to be from a single family—were seen coming and going at odd hours. On hot days, people frolicked and socialized in bathing suits around the pool. The place wasn’t causing any official disturbance, but given the pandemic, local witnesses were understandably disturbed.
In normal times, the activity at 5 Decourcy would have likely gone unnoticed by neighbours. The house was secluded, set well back from the street and its wealthy neighbours who, like Wei and his family, preferred to keep to themselves. But the spring of 2020 was not a normal time. Toronto was in its first lockdown. Judgmental neighbours were spying on each other. The police are usually loath to get involved in petty neighbourhood disputes, but for Slack, the complaints about Wei’s mansion immediately raised much larger suspicions.
He and his team would call the case against 5 Decourcy Project Endgame. That case, he told me, was part of a much larger investigation into illegal gaming in York Region called Project Double Down. While violent crime and robbery dropped precipitously in the GTA during lockdown, illegal gaming spiked. By the time they heard about 5 Decourcy, Slack’s team had already busted several underground casinos in Markham and Vaughan alone; in one raid, they seized more than $20,000 in cash, gaming tables and slot machines from a commercial unit on Midland Avenue. When legal casinos closed, compulsive gamblers suddenly had nowhere to go, and underground casinos popped up to accommodate them. Slack reported that since the pandemic hit, they’d busted a total of 30 illegal casinos in residences, small commercial spaces and plazas.
Within a few hours of monitoring 5 Decourcy, it became obvious to Slack what was going on inside. They ran licence plate checks on the guests, which quickly cemented their theory. Slack said that several of the wealthy guests were known to police due to their connections to illegal gaming. Months later, Slack proudly told me how his team had orchestrated the raid. He said he assumed there would be guns on site, so dropping in for a chat was not an option. It had to be an ambush. The operations were so brazen that it wasn’t even necessary to do a wiretap. Slack decided to simplify the process and try for an illegal-gaming warrant instead. Even for that, he and his team needed more evidence—ideally in the form of first-hand witness accounts. Flipping one of the guests might prove difficult or, worse, blow their cover altogether. Slack considered his options.
Decourcy Court is wide and curved, with just a handful of properties spread far apart on multi-acre lots. Both ends of the street join up with Major Mackenzie—there’s no other route in or out. A handy setup for commuters and, as it turned out, for York police.
Over several nights in May 2020, Slack and his team set up RIDE sobriety-testing stops just a few hundred metres from each other. By the wee hours, they’d pulled over several luxury cars leaving the party at 5 Decourcy. They gave the drivers breathalyzer tests and, unsurprisingly, found that some of them were over the legal limit. Then they asked what they’d been up to that night.
“I just went to my friend’s club to play cards,” one of the first drivers replied. Police had to explain that social gatherings of any kind were not permitted during lockdown, and furthermore it was illegal to gamble or purchase alcohol in an unlicensed establishment. Some guests seemed completely dumbfounded—they had no idea they were doing anything wrong. The police asked more questions about the evening and jotted down answers about the goings-on inside the house. After a few days of casual interviews at a couple of RIDE stops, York police believed they’d obtained all the evidence they needed for a warrant—and the biggest casino bust in the area’s history. “In terms of police work, I’ve got to be honest: the investigation was pretty straightforward,” Slack admits with a chuckle. “The bust was more of a challenge.”
According to police, this is how it unfolded. One afternoon in late summer, York police prepared to raid the mansion, with backup from members of the OPP and Durham Regional Police—there were 92 tactical officers and 32 investigators in total. With police in position to storm the site, a helicopter flew overhead once or twice, monitoring the scene from a long-lens camera with a two-mile range. Soon, word came back from the chopper: there seemed to be a family party taking place around the pool that afternoon. Parents and children had gathered for a barbecue, complete with uniformed staff handing out food and beverages. Slack worried it might be a kid’s birthday or a staff party. The risk to civilians was too high. He ordered his officers to stand down and reluctantly called off the raid.
A couple of days later, the cops surrounded the house in the early evening. Just after dark, dozens of armed officers entered the property on foot as oblivious security guards wrestled like puppies on the lawn. The cops didn’t bother to ring the bell. Slack remembers the bust as “absolutely mind-blowing.” He and his officers had raided casinos before, he said, but none of them had ever seen anything like the opulence on display at Mackenzie No. 5.
Thirty-eight people were arrested that night, and 23 were charged. Wei, along with his wife and daughter, were later arrested at their home on Woodland Acres Crescent. The rest of the accused were listed on the charge sheet as employees or gamblers. Over several hours, the cops say they collected a treasure trove of evidence that included professional casino equipment, 11 firearms and nearly $1 million in cash. After that, they searched Wei’s home in Vaughan, where they found approximately $100,000 more in cash. Wei’s family faced serious charges, including keeping an illegal gaming house and possession of the proceeds of a crime.
Among the many arrests was Wei Dong, a man they believed to be Wei Wei’s chief associate. Wei Dong was born in Beijing and had come to Canada with his family in the late 1990s, when he was 10. He declined my interview requests through his lawyers, who would only say he has his pilot’s licence, enjoys sports and is a “very polite and well-natured individual.” He too faces charges related to illegal weapons and keeping an illegal gaming house. Wei Wei refused to speak to me as well, but both men denied all allegations through their lawyers.
At the time of the arrests, the case against Wei looked damning. The cops took a victory lap, leveraging the publicity to maximum effect. They posted a slickly edited sizzle reel of the bust to their YouTube channel and tweeted it out several times. Slack even held a press conference outside the mansion gates, exuding confidence as he fielded questions from media, the garish opulence of 5 Decourcy his dramatic backdrop.
But as the cops were counting their chickens in the suburbs, downtown the eggs of Project Endgame were beginning to crack. Soon after the raid, Wei retained Danielle Robitaille as his defence counsel. One of the country’s fiercest criminal litigators, Robitaille is best known as a protégé of Marie Henein, with whom she successfully defended Jian Ghomeshi. On the Wei case, Robitaille quickly assembled a team of associates, including a ringer from outside the firm: Jake Shen, a cop turned litigator who’s fluent in Mandarin.
According to sources close to Wei, he insisted from the start that the charges against him were bogus. Documents obtained by Toronto Life lay out the nature of Wei’s complaints and his defence team’s ensuing investigation. The first thing they noticed was that at Wei’s home in Vaughan, Slack’s team had photographed his retainer agreement with Robitaille—an act that violated his attorney-client privilege. Wei also alleged that two of his luxury watches, a $300,000 Patek Philippe and a $150,000 Jaeger-LeCoultre, were found to be missing after the raid. But the most damning of Wei’s allegations was that a gun holster, which the cops claim they seized from his bedroom at Decourcy, was a plant. Wei figured the cops might have placed it in his house in order to connect him to the weapons charges—the ones that carried a potential prison sentence.
Police video footage of the initial search of Wei’s bedroom shows nothing behind the door outside the linen closet—the exact spot where police claimed they found the holster. Instead, this piece of evidence materialized as if by magic in a subsequent search 17 hours later.
To investigate the theft allegations, the lawyers contrasted the evidence files provided in disclosure from the Crown with the time-stamped footage of the goods seized on the night of the bust. In the initial search of Wei’s bedroom at 5 Decourcy, the watches are clearly visible. They also appear in the time-stamped photographs. But in later footage, they’re nowhere to be seen. The watches, Robitaille’s team discovered, were never bagged or numbered. When their absence was brought to the attention of the Crown, York police could not account for their whereabouts. Slack says the police had no grounds to seize the watches, since there was no indication that they were the proceeds of a crime. As of early July, the watches hadn’t materialized and the matter was still under investigation.
Together, these irregularities cast serious doubt on what had otherwise looked like a rock-solid case, one the police had been gloating about for months. To make matters worse, it wasn’t the first time the officers on Slack’s team had come under suspicion for questionable conduct. In summer 2019, they were part of Project Sindacato, an organized crime investigation targeting a group of individuals accused of operating illegal backroom gambling dens in cafés. The months-long investigation involved 48 search warrants and multiple wiretaps. Ultimately, York police made 15 arrests. They seized approximately $1 million in cash, 27 homes and a fleet of 23 luxury cars (including five Ferraris). As with Endgame, the cops initially trumpeted their success to the press and on social media, hailing it as the biggest anti-mafia operation in York Region’s history. But the case dramatically collapsed in January 2021 when the defence alleged that York police had unlawfully recorded privileged conversations between the defendants and their lawyers.
In mid-May, Slack and I spoke on the phone. His manner was upbeat, confident. He assured me the case was proceeding apace and a guilty plea was forthcoming. Robitaille and her team, he grumbled, were doing their best to drag out the process, but that was to be expected. I was shocked the next day, when a well-placed source told me that the case had fallen apart. Robitaille had reported her concerns about the police conduct to the assistant Crown attorneys prosecuting the case, providing detailed photographic evidence supporting her argument. The Crown wrote to York Regional Police asking that the allegations be investigated.
When Robitaille submitted an official complaint to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, it was her turn to be smug. She laid out a litany of allegations she believed should be independently scrutinized by the agency. In addition to the alleged misconduct, she excoriated York police for their handling of the case. “Senior members of the YRP have continued seeking publicity about the case in the months since the allegations were before the courts and while the YRP learned of this misconduct,” she wrote. “As a result, we no longer have any confidence in the objectivity of the YRP’s internal investigation into this matter.” The complaint is still under review. In a subsequent statement to Toronto Life, Robitaille reiterated her client’s denial of all charges. “The Crown, who works in the public interest, assessed the case and withdrew all the charges against Mr. Wei before even conducting a preliminary hearing,” she said. “The allegations against him were never proven and Mr. Wei is legally innocent of those charges.”
It took only a few days for the case to evaporate. Robitaille quickly scored a coup for her client: Wei Wei agreed to sign a two-year common-law peace bond. It’s a promise to the court that, in exchange for dropping the charges, he will abide by the law and refrain from illegal gambling or entering a “common gaming house.” Should he breach these conditions, Wei is subject to a special fine of $500,000. He laid no claim on the weapons and cash found in the gun safe, and agreed to forfeit his share of the profits from the sale of 5 Decourcy, which Wei had listed for $10 million. (The police were, however, forced to return all of his booze.) Charges against Wei’s wife and daughter were also stayed. Xiang Yue’s lawyer told Toronto Life that there was no basis to lay a charge in the first place.
The proceeds from these assets will be returned to the province. When the news broke, I immediately wrote to Slack and asked what happened. He wrote back a few days later in the same breezy tone he’d maintained from the start. He seemed utterly unfazed by the dramatic turn of events, which he would have seen coming for weeks. He responded to my email with the equivalent of a shrug: “The case in its entirety is still going forward,” he said, explaining that the primary target was always Wei Dong. This was the first I’d heard of it.
He reminded me that Project Endgame was an “extravagant and unique” operation but that, for better or worse, the courts still look at illegal gaming as a non-violent, non-victim offence. Even if the case against Wei Wei had moved forward, he said, it likely wouldn’t have yielded serious convictions. At the end of the day, he said, the courts and the Crown “simply do not have the capacity for everything to go to trial.” He seemed to be implying that the charges had been dropped as a mere matter of housekeeping.
Wei’s defence team, he told me, had done an excellent job of drawing attention away from the allegations and slowing the court process. He suggested that Wei might not be going to jail, but at least he took a financial hit. Under the circumstances, Slack said he felt the settlement was entirely fair and he was “content with the outcome.” It was a sentiment York Regional Police would go on to echo in the press for weeks to come.
Here is what he neglected to mention: the startling and seemingly well-founded allegations of police misconduct against his officers, which reduced his case to tatters; the department’s ongoing internal investigation; the cost of Project Endgame, all on the public dime, which factored in helicopters, overtime, manpower and Crown and court fees. “York Regional Police recognizes that with the complexity of these investigations, we must always look to improve and professionalize relentlessly…. But ultimately we remain proud of what our officers do every day,” he told Toronto Life in a statement. “The assertion that the Endgame investigation or prosecution has been a failure is completely false. The Endgame investigative goals were met by completely disrupting and dismantling the illegal gambling operation at 5 Decourcy Court in Markham.”
The cases against Wei Dong and other mansion staff are still before the courts, and none of the allegations against them have been proven. As the only defendant facing jail time over weapons charges, Wei Dong is effectively the fall guy. His defence lawyer is Calvin Barry, a slick showman with a specialty in celebrity DUIs. His court style comes off as diametrically opposed to Robitaille’s—think loquacious salesman versus strategic operator—but his courtroom win rate is equally impressive.
In a phone interview, Barry dismissed the criminal case against Wei Dong, pointing to his client’s clean criminal record. He painted Wei Dong as a hard-working immigrant from China who’d grown up in the suburbs of Toronto, a single young man who lives at home with his mother and flies planes on the weekend for fun. He works in private security, Barry explained, which was the sole capacity in which he’d been hired by Wei Wei. The idea that he was responsible for an illegal Covid casino and pleasure palace is “patently ludicrous,” according to Barry. Wei Dong is also alleging police mishandled the evidence against him—that after a search of his home, some of his cash and jewellery were found to be missing. Needless to say, his legal team is following up.
Like Slack, Barry seemed upbeat about the case when we spoke, confident to the point of blasé. I asked if he was outraged by the withdrawal of charges against Wei Wei. Didn’t it bother him that Wei Dong was still on the hook while his rich boss walked free? Barry laughed at the question. “On the contrary,” he said, clearly delighted. “Fruit of the poisoned tree.” He added he wouldn’t be surprised if the whole case fell apart within a few months. And he’s right: now that Wei Wei is effectively exonerated and police credibility is in tatters, it’s difficult to see how any of the charges will stick.
The house at 5 Decourcy Court, meanwhile, spent three months on the market last spring before selling for $8.2 million, nearly double its 2015 purchase price. Wei surrendered his interest in the mansion, but his wife and the bank still claimed their shares. After all that effort, the province was left with nothing but a few weapons, some cash and their take from the sale of the house.
This story appears in the August 2021 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe for just $29.95 a year, click here.