A months-long Vancouver Police investigation has led to multiple criminal charges and renewed concerns that criminal networks are trafficking massive amounts of stolen property in the Downtown Eastside.
VPD’s Anti-Fencing Unit launched an undercover sting in April, sending entrenched officers to the Downtown Eastside to observe and gather evidence about the rampant trafficking of stolen property.
“These officers saw people openly selling drugs and stolen property – everything from power tools and electronics still in store packaging, to cosmetics, designer clothing, and sunglasses that still had anti-theft devices attached,” said Inspector Gary Hiar, officer in charge of VPD’s General Investigation Section, on Monday. “Using sophisticated investigative techniques, detectives confirmed that thousands of dollars in stolen property are being moved in and out of the Downtown Eastside every day by people who don’t even live in the community.”
Police said that much of the criminal activity centres around the open-air street market on East Hastings Street, between Columbia and Carrall streets. Although this area has long been a place for marginalized Downtown Eastsiders to find self-worth and make a few dollars by selling second-hand goods, many of those local residents are being pushed out by people who don’t live in the neighbourhood, but go there to traffic property. Unable to compete with these criminal enterprises, many locals are resorting back to crime just to make ends meet.
“The demand for stolen goods is entirely fueled by greed and desperation,” said Inspector Alison Laurin, who oversees VPD’s patrol deployment in the Downtown Eastside. “Impoverished and drug addicted people are now being recruited to steal by predatory fences, who in turn pay pennies on the dollar for stolen goods and resell them to bargain-hunters who are all-too-willing to turn a blind eye.”
BC Prosecution Service has approved charges against two men police believe were using the Downtown Eastside street market to traffic stolen property.
Surrey resident Nezamoddin Jelali, 60, has been charged with three counts of possession of stolen property and one count of trafficking stolen property, for incidents that occurred between April 20 and June 23. He was arrested by Vancouver Police on June 24, and released from custody pending his next court appearance. Jelali’s release conditions prohibit him from entering Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Vancouver resident Aaron Castillo-Anguiano, 43, has been charged with three counts of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and two counts of possession of proceeds of crime, for incidents that occurred between April 20 and June 15. He was arrested June 16 and released from custody pending his next court appearance. Castillo-Anguiano is now banned from all flea markets and any place in Vancouver that deals in second-hand goods, as part of his release conditions.
Police said more arrests could be coming as investigations continue.