Project Fisk and the allegations against Abdullah Shah
Lengthy police probe yielded no direct criminal charges against notorious Edmonton landlord or associates
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 investigations 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.
Part Two looks at Project Fisk, a two-year investigation into Abdullah Shah and his company Home Placement Systems as a "suspected criminal organization."
- 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
Project Fisk had one aim — to gather evidence in a bid to dismantle a "suspected criminal organization" alleged to be led by notorious convicted criminal Abdullah Shah, also known as Carmen Pervez.
Started in 2019 and headed by now-suspended Edmonton police Det. Dan Behiels, the project was a joint operation between the Edmonton Police Service and the Canada Revenue Agency.
The investigative team was focused on the suspected offences of money laundering, evasion of taxes and participation in a criminal organization, according to Behiels.
"In January, 2019, members of the Edmonton Police Service identified the operations of Home Placement Systems (HPS) as a suspected criminal organization," Behiels wrote as part of a 101-page sworn provincial court document called an Information to Obtain (ITO) that was filed in July 2019 to obtain search warrants on a number of properties connected to Shah.
The ITO provides a snapshot of the investigation at the time it's filed. CBC obtained the document in January 2021 after it was unsealed by the provincial court in December 2020. Later in January, Behiels leaked thousands of pages of investigative materials to CBC News after the Project Fisk investigation was closed and no charges were laid.
In an interview with CBC News in the spring, after he was suspended for leaking the documents, Behiels explained why Project Fisk focused on Home Placement Systems, a company run by Shah.
"I know that with a statistically significant measurable amount, there's more violent crime that happens at properties owned or controlled by Home Placement Systems than any other problem property in the city of Edmonton," Behiels said.
During the investigation, officers "formed the belief that individuals operating for the benefit of the organization have laundered more than $500,000 in cash believed to be the proceeds of crime," Behiels wrote in the ITO. He alleged that Shah and his associates laundered the money in casinos and through real estate transactions via numbered companies and trust accounts linked to HPS.
He also alleged HPS was actively involved in drug trafficking and the trafficking of the proceeds of crime through its operation of more than $24 million in residential and commercial real estate in Edmonton.
Behiels implicated a number of Shah's HPS associates as alleged participants in the criminal organization.
"Existing police investigations led investigators to the belief that these individuals have and continue to participate in this criminal organization by committing indictable offences including the trafficking of drugs, trafficking of stolen property and aggravated assault," Behiels wrote.
"In January 2019, members of the Edmonton Police Service identified the operations of Home Placement Systems (HPS) as a suspected criminal organization," Behiels wrote in the ITO.
Search warrants executed
After the ITO was filed in July 2019, a provincial court judge granted search warrants on the properties connected to Shah and his associates.
More than 11,000 exhibits were seized during the lengthy investigation. The evidence gathered indicated a number of witnesses who felt they had been victimized by Shah.
When the ITO was unsealed by the courts in January of this year, Shah defence lawyer Paul Moreau reviewed the document and wrote to CBC News.
"It is clear that Det. Behiels blatantly lied in the Information to Obtain sworn under oath to obtain the search warrants and my clients had no ability to respond to these lies before the search warrant was granted and the searches conducted," Moreau wrote.
Moreau suggested Behiels acted out of "clear animosity and malice" towards Shah. He described Project Fisk as "a witch hunt" driven by "tunnel vision."
Behiels denied Moreau's allegations.
"When we start an investigation like this, it's not directed towards one person," Behiels said in an interview earlier this year.
"It's to follow the evidence. As we followed the evidence, it continually led back to the same places and people."
A number of Shah HPS associates have also now launched civil lawsuits against the Edmonton Police Service over statements made by Edmonton police when the search warrants were executed.
Crossing Shah and the violent repercussions
More than 100 witnesses were identified as part of Project Fisk, according to the leaked investigative materials, court documents and court proceedings. Dozens of people were interviewed by police, including current and former employees.
One of those was Clark Moukhaiber, now 49, who worked for Shah and HPS for about eight months until the two men had a falling out in January 2019.
The breakdown in relations between the two became dangerous for Moukhaiber and would result in a criminal conviction for Shah.
While Moukhaiber was in the Edmonton Remand Centre on charges of possession of stolen property and possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking, Shah contacted a number of inmates offering to pay them if they carried out an assault. Those conversations were recorded and formed part of the ITO.
During one recorded conversation, Shah said Moukhaiber had "ripped me off $90,000" and that he would pay $1,000 once he was in "medical."
"I'm just telling you straight up, you have my word, I don't f--k around with my word, so, this means everything to me, — not a little dummy up — an emergency," Shah is recorded as saying.
Moukhaiber told Edmonton police the falling out was based in part on Shah trying to get him to begin trafficking fentanyl rather than meth.
However, Shah's lawyer, Paul Moreau, told court that Shah and Moukhaiber had parted ways after "a very large theft" of tools and equipment.
Moreau also alleged that after the two men argued, Moukhaiber threatened Shah and his family.
The assault in remand never happened but Moukhaiber was violently assaulted twice after he got out of remand. One of the men Shah communicated with about the assault was Salem Godinjak. Godinjak later pleaded guilty to assaulting Moukhaiber with a weapon. He was sentenced to 10 months in jail along with one year of probation.
On Feb. 1, 2019 at a north Edmonton warehouse owned by Shah, four men attacked Moukhaiber with a baseball bat, a ball-peen hammer, a Taser and a gun. Both his arms were broken. He was burned from being Tasered and shot in the leg. He had to have surgery.
Three weeks later, Moukhaiber was shovelling snow when three men approached him. The prosecutor told the judge during a bail hearing for Shah that one of the men began punching Moukhaiber in the head while another man swung a sledgehammer at him.
"Two bystanders tried to intervene and [one assailant] produced a revolver and pointed it at the two Good Samaritans," Crown prosecutor James Stewart said during the bail hearing. "This is all happening on a public street in Edmonton."
Moukhaiber agreed to cooperate with police after he was assaulted the first time. He told investigators about the work he did for Shah and Home Placement Systems.
"Moukhaiber's role in the organization could be described as middle management," the ITO states. "His job included paying employees on a daily basis using methamphetamine provided to him at the ounce level by [Shah] directly."
The ITO alleges Moukhaiber also took in stolen property for HPS in exchange for cash or meth under the direction of Shah.
In a recent email to CBC, one of Shah's lawyers, Erika Norheim, alleged that Moukhaiber "has very serious credibility issues" along with "an obvious motive to try to discredit Mr. Shah by any means possible."
"His allegations about Mr. Shah are unequivocally denied," Norheim wrote.
In December 2020, Shah pleaded guilty to counselling an offence (assault causing bodily harm) for asking a number of men to beat up Moukhaiber. He was sentenced to eight months of house arrest, followed by a seven-month curfew.
That is the only criminal charge that is linked to Project Fisk.
The Shah business model
Abdullah Shah is a well-known landlord in Edmonton's inner city, and has a criminal record dating back to 1983 that includes convictions for drug trafficking and mortgage fraud.
At one point he said he owned about 100 rental properties in the city, but in 2020 his lawyer said he was getting out of the business.
He has previously described himself as a community minded property owner who has tried to help others who are less fortunate.
Shah has also acknowledged that many of his tenants have criminal records, addiction or mental health issues and often are unable to pass a credit check or come up with a damage deposit.
In a final report to the provincial Crown about the two-year police investigation into Shah and his HPS associates, Behiels noted that housing was often provided to tenants through HPS with no credit checks.
Even the damage deposit could be waived and added onto the debt side of the ledger.
Home Placement Systems properties are used to generate income and to house "workers," the ITO says.
In that report, a former HPS employee told police that Shah's "street reputation and history of violence made it common for people to suffer under recruitment by Home Placement Systems because the penalty for outstanding debts included violence."
"Exploitation of existing and developing substance addictions was also a common control method that was employed by Shah to control individuals for the purpose of exploiting them," the report to Crown counsel says.
The former employee was the only person "willing to outline the full nature of his exploitation. He was exploited to conduct work, criminal and non-criminal, under threat of violence by means of indentured servitude to Shah," the report says.
When Edmonton police executed a search warrant on Shah's Riverbend house in July 2019, they seized a rent roll from June 2019 on 43 properties. It showed most of the rent had been paid, but tenants had accumulated debt to the tune of nearly $18,000.
Behiels believes far too many people have been and continue to be victimized by Shah and his organization.
He said that was the main reason he leaked details of his investigation to CBC News this past January just days after the Crown decided not to lay criminal charges, saying there wasn't enough evidence for a reasonable likelihood of conviction, and the Edmonton police closed the investigation.
"I'd come to the conclusion that there wasn't an effective way within the EPS or the justice system to actually solve the problem affecting many victims," Behiels told CBC News.
"My hope is that if it's made public, they can avoid being victimized in the future."
Coming up tomorrow: Part Three: Police and CRA evidence against Home Placement Systems and Shah.