May 12, 2011
In happier times, Sau San (Jennifer) Wu loved getting her picture in the newspaper, posing with a cellphone at her ear and a coy smile on her face in ads for her former Richmond Hill real estate business.
Now, Wu is heading to prison after getting her photo in a newspaper one time too many.
York Regional Police detective Dave Noseworthy spotted her face in the background of a photo in an online Romanian newspaper earlier this year, five years after Wu fled the country — and charges of helping run the largest indoor residential marijuana grow operation in Canadian history.
“I thought ‘Wow!,” Noseworthy said in an interview. “I knew her right away.”
Wu, 46, faced those charges in a Newmarket court Thursday, where she was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison by Justice Michael Brown. She plead guilty to an assortment of charges for marijuana cultivation, tax evasion, utilities fraud, money laundering and violating court-ordered bail conditions. She was also given a year to pay $97,647.79 in back income taxes.
The sentence was jointly requested by defence lawyer Gary Clewley and federal prosecutor Lisa Mathews.
Her partner in the scheme and co-accused, Phu Nhi (John) Trac, was sentenced to five years in prison on December 22, 2009. He was also ordered to pay a fine of more than $1 million.
Noseworthy told the Toronto Star he located Wu after googling the name “Eli Comsa,” Wu’s husband and a former auto mechanic in Vaughan. A Romanian newspaper article about a Bucharest daycare that offered language instruction in four languages appeared on his computer screen.
In the foreground of the photo was Comsa.
In the background was a woman identified as daycare operator “Ivy Lim.”
Noseworthy said he immediately recognized that “Ivy Lim” was really Wu, one of the architects of the massive marijuana scheme and a fugitive for the past five years.
“I’m surprised she put her picture in there,” Noseworthy said.
He travelled to Bucharest to bring Wu back to Canada to face the outstanding charges, and she consented to her extradition.
“She was fine,” Noseworthy said. “She had bags packed. She said, ‘Hello Detective Noseworthy. How are you?’ I think in a sense, she’s almost relieved, although she never said that to me. It’s tough, living like that.”
She also told the detective she can now speak seven languages.
“She told me that she had learned a couple of languages since she had been in Romania,” Noseworthy said.
Wu appeared calm in court Thursday, although her appearance bore little resemblance to the sassy and successful image she used to portray in her real estate ads, when she worked with Sutton Group.
She wore a loose-fitting print dress and black business jacket. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore no makeup.
There were no family or friends in the public area of the courtroom to support her, just law enforcement officials, including Noseworthy, and reporters.
Court heard she used her skills as a real estate professional to rent out 54 houses across the GTA to “farmers,” who cultivated crops between September 2000 and December 2002. Court heard the 27,000 marijuana plants seized in the 54 houses were worth between $2.8 million and $15.3 million wholesale.
Wu operated 17 personal and four corporate bank accounts and had nine credit card accounts to launder money and maintain the ruse that the houses were legally rented.
The ring, which included 14 other people, was cracked in 2002 as part of a six-month investigation, dubbed Project New Voltage, with officers from York, Peel Halton and Durham regions, Toronto, the Ontario Provincial Police, and the RCMP. A total of 120 charges were laid, including those against Wu.
She fled Canada in December 2005 while pregnant. Her flight took her to Taipei, China, Kaneohe, Hawaii and eventually, Bucharest, Romania, where she had permanent resident status through her husband, but not citizenship.
On Thursday her lawyer, Clewley, said that Wu agreed to a longer sentence than Trac received because she did not want the case to be appealed by the Crown and because she faced added charges, including ones related to her flight from Canada. Trac is appealing his sentence.
Clewley told the court that many of Wu’s legal woes came because she has had bad luck choosing men. She had no criminal record before Thursday’s convictions.
The father of her teenaged son abandoned her and didn’t pay any child support, Clewley said, while Trac, who was a “top producer” with Living Realty, pulled her into the marijuana enterprise and then tried to paint her as its mastermind.
“It was his idea,” Clewley said. “She had a young son and she wasn’t making much of a living . . . The father (of her first child) wasn’t contributing, and she ended up in a relationship with Trac.”
Things appear far better with Comsa, a car mechanic who worked on her Mercedes and Chrysler Sebring in Vaughan before they became romantically involved shortly before her flight to Romania.
He said that Comsa will bring their son, who’s now in Grade 1, to Canada and set up a home close to wherever she is imprisoned.
“She’s smart,” Clewley said. “She knows it’s time to pay the penalty and get on with her life.”
He said he had no explanation why a smart woman would permit herself to be photographed by a newspaper while hiding from the law.
“I don’t know,” Clewley said. “That’s a good question.”