Realtor Phu Nhi (John) Trac outside Newmarket court May 4, 2009.
Grow-op king duped 54 homeowners
May 05, 2009
Maura and her husband thought they were renting their Aurora home to a couple who were away a lot.
But they wondered why the real estate agent representing the tenants kept putting them off when they tried to visit the home to get it appraised.
Fed up, they finally gave 24 hours notice that they were coming, regardless. When they arrived on Sept. 10, 2001, no one was home. “The house was abandoned, but there were hoses all the way from the kitchen sink to the basement,” said Maura, who asked that her last name not be used.
“The basement was a forest of greenery. We were very, very upset, to put it mildly,” she said in an interview.
The couple were but one of 54 homeowners across Greater Toronto between 2000 and 2002 to find out that their rental properties had been turned into marijuana grow-ops, costing them thousands of dollars in clean-up, repairs and deflated property values.
By the time a special multi-jurisdictional police task force had finished investigating, 27,550 pot plants – worth more than $30 million – had been seized.
The scheme was masterminded by real estate agent Phu Nhi (John) Trac, 46, of Living Realty in Markham, York Region Det. David Noseworthy testified yesterday.
“He was a micromanager of his criminal organization,” Noseworthy said at the first day of Trac’s sentencing hearing in Ontario Superior Court in Newmarket.
Trac’s sidekick was his close friend Sau San (Jennifer) Wu, a Sutton Group real estate agent, who is still wanted by police, Noseworthy said
In December, Trac pleaded guilty to producing and possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, money laundering, plus income tax and GST evasion.
He later tried to take back his guilty plea, but Justice Michael Brown rejected his motion.
Dressed in an immaculate suit, Trac sat in court yesterday beside his wife, Man Nghi (Yvonne) Le, and brother Phu Nhut (Mike) Trac.
The latter two face related charges, but those likely will be dropped at the end of Trac’s two-week sentencing hearing, prosecutor Lisa Mathews said.
The rental agreements gave the first clues to the scheme. Similar tenant names, business references and previous addresses would appear, some real, others bogus, most linked to Trac or his associates.
But it was the wiretaps that showed Trac involved in every aspect of the massive scheme, Noseworthy said.
He gave his underlings advice on how to avoid detection. He took an interest in how the plants were progressing and in the price of marijuana.
“He sought customers for his product,” Noseworthy said. “He sought franchisees for his operations.”
Trac generally targeted large homes with unfinished basements, where the pot plants would grow to full size, Noseworthy testified.
The marijuana growers would drill into the foundations, bypassing the hydro meter to steal electricity.
Police found little furniture in the houses, which were uninhabited save for a mattress on the floor, presumably used by the lone “farmer.”
The majority of victims were hard-working, middle-class homeowners.
“A lot of them felt very betrayed,” Noseworthy said.
Hydro companies would estimate the value of the electricity stolen and insist that homeowners pay before hooking them up again.
Silvano Deluca’s father fell ill and died nine months after police informed him his Mississauga house had been turned into a grow-op.
The shock may not have caused his dad’s death, but it didn’t help, Deluca said outside court.
The sentencing hearing continues today.