100 cheeseburgers, mood lights and exotic dancers: Search warrant details alleged pandemic penthouse party
Police allegedly received previous complaints but were unable to attend because of lack of resources
In the early hours of Saturday morning, as Vancouver police officers stood outside what they suspected was a makeshift nightclub housed in the penthouse of a downtown apartment building, a delivery driver allegedly showed up with a McDonald's bag.
Police claim there were 100 cheeseburgers inside — a detail that would become part of the rationale for investigators to return to the suite with a search warrant 24 hours later.
"I believe this shows that the number of people inside [the penthouse] was so large that they required an unusually large order of 100 cheeseburgers," wrote Const. Regie Gnanaseelan, the officer who swore the information to obtain the warrant, which was obtained by CBC News.
A lack of police resources
Cheeseburgers, exotic dancers, mood lighting and guests wearing socked feet to avoid making too much noise: those are all part of the details alleged by police last Sunday in order to gain entry to what they claimed was a nightclub.
The owner of the suite, Mohammad Movassaghi, has been charged with two counts of violating the emergency health orders of B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
None of the allegations in the warrant have been proven in court.
In obtaining the warrant to enter Movassaghi's home, police said they were seeking liquor bottles, cash, credit card machines and documentation that would help them to do contact tracing for COVID-19.
The court documents claim that police first received a complaint about the suite nearly a month earlier, on Jan. 2, when they received a 911 call from someone who "reported loud music and party sounds, stating that it has been going on for days."
But according to the warrant, no police officers were able to attend at that time, "due to the volume of calls in the city."
Heard a single voice say 'shhhh'
The following weekend, police received another 911 call from someone claiming there were approximately 100 people inside the suite.
But police didn't attend then either because of a "lack of resources."
Police did go to the suite the weekend after, and they allegedly heard a loud party on arrival. But when they knocked on the door "all noises ceased and the occupants refused to come to the door."
Gnanaseelan claims police got a call the next weekend — on Jan. 23 — from a woman who said she had been invited to the penthouse by a friend, but left "appalled" by what she allegedly saw.
"Upon entering the suite they were directed to remove their shoes to prevent noise. She observed a stripper pole from the second floor of the suite down to the first floor and there were exotic dancers dancing on the pole," Gnanaseelan wrote.
"There was a corner of the room that had bartenders making and serving drinks. There was a DJ booth in the second floor of the suite. The suite had spot lights and mood lighting as if it were a nightclub. There were approximately 50-100 people in the penthouse suite."
At that time Gnanaseelan claims he attended.
"I knocked on the door three times and heard a single voice say 'shhhh' and then overheard it being repeated several times as if it were being passed along," the officer wrote.
Police allegedly arrested a man who emerged from the suite holding a device to count patrons, which showed the number 41.
They talked through the door with Movassaghi, who allegedly said "I refuse any charge you have against me" and refused to open the door.
'Appeared to read a prepared script'
At 12:30 a.m. last Saturday, the building concierge called police to report a large party of 23 people.
"The concierge was concerned about COVID non-compliance and informed the call taker that people had been getting buzzed into the unit all night long," the information to obtain the search warrant reads.
After observing the alleged cheeseburger delivery, officers knocked on the door, but Movassaghi refused to open. He allegedly "appeared to read a prepared script written by a lawyer, directing police to serve paperwork and to direct any questions to his lawyer," police claim.
Gnanaseelan claims that police stationed outside the building saw multiple small groups of people show up while they were on site, buzzing on the intercom and saying "Hey Mo" before being let in.
The officer obtained a search warrant at 1:55 a.m. Sunday on the belief that the penthouse was being operated as an "after-hours nightclub."
Movassaghi was arrested and taken into custody. He was released on Sunday morning on five bail conditions, that include agreeing not to host any events, to comply with the public health orders and to have only one other person, a woman, in the suite.
He is only the second person in B.C. to be charged under Section 99 of the Public Health Act in relation to alleged violations of pandemic-related restrictions.
Police said they issued more than $17,000 in fines to the 77 people they say were found in the 1,827-square-foot penthouse. They also said no one inside was wearing a mask.
$25,000 and/or up to six months in jail
Movassaghi's next court appearance is Feb. 22. He has not yet entered a plea to the charges, which carry penalties of up to $25,000 and/or six months in jail.
His lawyer has not responded to emailed requests for comment from the CBC.
A former financial planner who was fired from his job in September 2016 for allegedly forging a client's signature, Movassaghi bought the penthouse for $2.95 million in November 2020.
Last April, he lost a wrongful dismissal suit brought against his former employer and was ordered to pay almost $15,000 in a counterclaim.
B.C.'s COVID-19 restrictions ban gathering with anyone outside your household.
B.C. health officials announced 414 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 more deaths on Wednesday.
A total of 1,234 people in B.C. have lost their lives due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began out of 68,780 confirmed cases. More than 61,643 people who tested positive have recovered.