Behind the blue line: Investigating Abdullah Shah
Lead detective suspended with pay for leaking investigation details to CBC
For more than three years, Edmonton police Det. Dan Behiels investigated notorious Edmonton landlord Abdullah Shah and some of his alleged accomplices. In January 2021, when the investigation concluded and no charges were laid, a frustrated Behiels took the extraordinary step of leaking the confidential investigative documents to CBC News. He is now suspended and facing disciplinary charges. CBC Edmonton's new series — Behind the blue line: Investigating Abdullah Shah — digs into those documents and why Behiels decided to put his career on the line for them.
- Read Part One — Behind the blue line: Investigating Abdullah Shah
- Read Part Two — Project Fisk and the allegations against Abdullah Shah
- Read Part Three — Police investigation probes landlord's taxes, casino activities
- Read Part Four — How a stolen police badge raised concerns about Abdullah Shah and his connections with Edmonton police
- Read Part Five — Lawsuits against Edmonton police and a detective's career in limbo: The aftermath of Project Fisk
Edmonton police Det. Dan Behiels is resigned to the fact that his 11-year policing career might well be over.
For more than three years, Behiels investigated notorious convicted criminal Abdullah Shah (also known as Carmen Pervez) and his alleged fraudulent dealings conducted through his company, Home Placement Systems (HPS).
The investigation, known as Project Fisk, looked to dismantle an alleged criminal organization Shah — who has a lengthy police history including drug trafficking and a $30-million mortgage fraud — was suspected of running.
Launched in 2019, Project Fisk was to investigate alleged money laundering, tax evasion, organized crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking, violent assaults and fraud linked to HPS.
The allegations are contained in a 101-page provincial court document called an Information to Obtain that was filed in July 2019 to obtain search warrants on a number of properties connected to Shah. The ITO is a snapshot of the investigation at the time it's filed.
But when the Crown decided in January of this year to not lay criminal charges and police dropped the investigation, Behiels, 39, grew increasingly concerned that justice, in his eyes, would not be served.
"Through 2016 to 2018, approximately 10 per cent of Edmonton's homicides occurred in a property owned or controlled by Shah, and his influence over the street-level gang activities of the Redd Alert were expanding," Behiels wrote in a letter to police Chief Dale McFee in January.
"Increasingly violent offences were found to occur at an inordinate frequency at these properties due to [Shah] housing and supplying drugs to the street level gangs."
Feeling like he had exhausted every option, Behiels turned whistleblower.
He handed over a thumb drive to CBC Edmonton. It contained 64 gigabytes of documents detailing work conducted by the EPS in their investigation of Shah and his alleged accomplices.
The information was the culmination of thousands of hours of police work in an investigation that he ultimately led.
Two days after he leaked the highly confidential information, Behiels confessed his actions in an emailed report to the police chief.
He was immediately placed on administrative leave and on Feb. 4 was suspended with pay.
"It's never been my practice to do things in a backhanded or a deceitful way," Behiels said in an interview.
"I know it was against my duty even if it was abiding my conscience. So I had a responsibility to do that as well."
Who is Abdullah Shah?
Shah first came onto Behiels' radar in 2015 when Behiels was on downtown patrol duty, responding regularly to 911 calls.
"I saw a pattern of going to the same properties," Behiels said.
"After we're done searching a property or containing a scene, the same landlords would show up and that's how I became familiar with Carmen Pervez."
Those properties were part of a portfolio of houses and apartments owned by HPS and Shah associates.
Shah has been the subject of a number of EPS investigations and has a criminal record that dates back to 1983.
In 1994, he was sentenced to four years in prison for producing and trafficking methamphetamine.
After he was released, Shah established a complex mortgage fraud ring involving 165 residential and commercial properties in central Edmonton.
In February 2008, he was sentenced to six years in prison for mortgage fraud by an Edmonton judge who called him "the controlling mind of this fraudulent scheme," according to parole board documents.
He was given credit for pretrial custody and served less than two years. He was released on June 4, 2009.
In 2010, Pervez legally changed his name to Abdullah Shah. Once again he began collecting a stable of residential and commercial properties through HPS.
The 59-year-old's problems with the law have continued. He faces a preliminary hearing in January on four counts of trafficking fentanyl.
Shah is currently on probation. He was sentenced to a year of house arrest and probation after admitting last December that he had paid people to assault a former employee.
On Aug. 13 of this year, Shah was shot in the jaw at one of his inner-city properties. He has been released from hospital. No one has been arrested in connection with the shooting.
CBC News requested an interview with Shah in June and again in September through his lawyer, Paul Moreau. They turned down the requests.
Moreau has described Project Fisk as "a witch hunt" driven by "tunnel vision."
'Intelligence gaps' in investigation
Investigators spent 2018 gathering intelligence on Shah and associates connected to Home Placement Systems (HPS), a company run by Shah. The investigation was called Project Fledermaus, which was a precursor to Project Fisk.
It was designed to collect enough information to convince ALERT — the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams — to launch a criminal organization investigation.
Funded by the provincial government, ALERT was created with the objective of tackling serious and organized crime. A spokesperson refused comment when contacted about this story.
EPS presented its case to ALERT on Dec. 3, 2018. In January, 2019, Behiels met with acting police chief Kevin Brezinski to discuss the file. ALERT declined intake and the file was closed without further investigation.
In an August 2021 email to CBC News, Brezinski said he was not involved in ALERT's decision, which had already been made by the time he met with Behiels.
"ALERT advised EPS that there were several intelligence gaps within the investigation, that some of the intelligence being relied upon would not stand up in court, and ultimately the file did not meet ALERT's mandate for intake," Brezinski wrote.
"Det. Behiels was encouraged to continue working through the investigation to rectify the outlined issues."
At that point, Edmonton police Insp. Peter Bruni-Bossio authorized Behiels and his partner to launch a new investigation. They partnered with the Canada Revenue Agency and named it Project Fisk.
Their targets were Shah, HPS and the people who worked with Shah.
The execution of search warrants in July 2019 were part of Project Fisk but did not ultimately lead to any criminal charges before the investigation was called off.
Allegations of corruption lead to investigations
In his January 2021 report to McFee, Behiels wrote: "I believe that members of the Edmonton Police Service have engaged in corrupt acts that have effectively insulated this criminal organization from investigation and prosecution."
Behiels had made a similar allegation in a March 2019 report to McFee.
CBC News requested an interview with the police chief. The request was denied.
EPS spokesperson Cheryl Sheppard confirmed in late July that the internal concerns raised by Behiels beginning in 2019 were forwarded to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the province's police watchdog. Behiels was interviewed by an investigator.
"It was determined that the allegations were not believed to be criminal and that EPS would retain the file," Sheppard wrote. "Given the nature of the allegations, the EPS felt it would be more appropriate for an outside agency to investigate."
Edmonton police passed along Behiels' concerns to the Calgary Police Service (CPS) first in 2019 and again in 2021.
The CPS anti-corruption unit investigated Behiels' allegations for more than two years. The investigation was called Operation Achilles. Behiels was interviewed, as were a number of other Edmonton police officers.
On July 26, 2021, the investigating detective with Calgary police notified Behiels by email that the CPS investigation had concluded "and found that the evidence did not support or meet the threshold for criminal charges."
Four days later, EPS spokesperson Sheppard noted in an email to CBC that the "extensive" investigation by Calgary police found "no criminality or evidence of corruption by the EPS and its members."
Behiels, however, said he believes the public deserves to know more of the story.
To date, no disciplinary charges have been laid against Behiels, but he received official notice in late July that he is being investigated for breach of trust, discreditable conduct and insubordination related to the release of highly confidential information to the media.
"I think it's likely that I'll be suspended without pay or fired based on this action," Behiels said. "I still wouldn't choose another way to do it, so I have to live with that."
Coming up tomorrow: Project Fisk and the Shah operation.