Edmonton landlord’s associates sue police for $1.95 million over ‘persons of interest’ news release

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Three associates of controversial Edmonton property owner Abdullah Shah have filed lawsuits against the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), claiming a media statement identifying them as “persons of interest” in a high-profile police investigation “irreparably” damaged their reputations.

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Tony Singh, Sarah Fassmann and Jennifer Vuong are plaintiffs in a trio of lawsuits filed this summer against EPS Chief Dale McFee, several senior officers and a civilian communications employee. Singh and Fassmann are each seeking $1.95 million. Vuong is asking for $5 million for the disclosure of her name, in addition to a variety of other issues with the police service.

At issue is a 2019 EPS media statement issued following a series of searches at properties owned by Shah and his business partners.

The investigation never resulted in charges, leading Shah’s lawyer to call the probe a “witch hunt.”

In a statement of claim filed in June, Singh said the 2019 search was motivated by “animosity” on the part of police, due to Singh’s connections with Shah, the high-profile inner-city Edmonton landlord also known as Carmen Pervez.

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Singh said police searched his home, including his son’s school bag, then issued a statement intended to make people think he was “a member of a criminal organization who engaged in drug trafficking, tax evasion and other criminal conduct.”

EPS has filed a statement of defence denying wrongdoing. An EPS spokesperson declined to comment further, citing the ongoing litigation.

Statements of claim and statements of defence contain allegations not proven in court.

Abdullah Shah at a Law Enforcement Review Board hearing on Jan. 29, 2019.
Abdullah Shah at a Law Enforcement Review Board hearing on Jan. 29, 2019. Edmonton

Plaintiff claims banks called loans due

Shah served prison time for his role in a 2008 mortgage fraud scheme and was recently given house arrest for ordering a “hit” on a man at the Edmonton Remand Centre. He recently survived being shot in the head, a shooting police continue to investigate.

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Shah also faces fentanyl trafficking charges with a court appearance scheduled for January 2022.

Shah, Singh, Fassmann and Vuong were targets of a 2019 investigation undertaken by Edmonton police and the Canada Revenue Agency. The investigation included search warrants executed on July 24, 2019, on properties across the city, including the homes of Shah and his associates.

Police released a media statement that day saying the searches — including a raid on a row of 111 Avenue commercial buildings owned by Shah — were related to a group of property owners who “have allegedly been operating as a criminal organization in the city of Edmonton for many years.”

Six days later, police issued a follow-up statement naming Shah and all three plaintiffs as “persons of interest,” and claiming charges including money laundering, drug trafficking and tax evasion were pending.

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In February 2021, however, Shah’s lawyer revealed prosecutors had declined to pursue charges against anyone following the investigation. Erika Norheim called the probe a “colossal waste of resources … driven by tunnel vision and malice.”

All three plaintiffs claim the searches were based on false pretences, personal “ill will” on the part of detectives, and unreliable information, including from Clark Moukhaiber, the target of the ultimately unsuccessful remand centre hit (Moukhaiber is accused of extorting Shah and goes to trial in May 2022.)

Singh in particular says the search at his home traumatized his wife and young son, and that police strung police tape around the property to draw neighbours’ attention.

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Singh claims one of the detectives on the 2019 case, Paul Kelly, had a personal grudge against him. Singh owns a central Edmonton property where two men were shot and killed in separate 2017 homicides. Kelly was charged with disciplinary offences after Singh found the second man’s body, which allegedly went undiscovered during the initial police search. Kelly’s Police Act hearing begins Monday.

Another of the detectives on the 2019 case, Dan Behiels, was recently suspended after alleging in an internal letter that senior EPS officers engaged in “corrupt acts” to insulate Shah and his organization from prosecution. His claims were investigated by Calgary police, who found no evidence of wrongdoing. Norheim earlier claimed Behiels has shown “clear animosity” towards her client.

Singh, Fassmann and Vuong all say the publicity hurt their ability to do business. Singh in particular says his banks terminated service on short notice and demanded he immediately repay all outstanding loans.

In its statement of defence, Edmonton police said they had a duty to inform the public about the searches, acted in good faith, and gave statements that were protected by qualified privilege.

No trial dates have been set for the lawsuits.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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