Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Police seize wireless gear after BerMax owners charged with staging hate crime

More than a week after Winnipeg police charged the owners of BerMax Caffe and Bistro with staging a robbery and hate crime, officers got a search warrant to seize evidence from the Corydon Avenue business.

Owners Oxana, Alexander and Maxim Berent set to make first court appearance

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      More than a week after Winnipeg police charged the owners of BerMax Caffe and Bistro with staging a robbery and hate crime, officers got a search warrant to seize evidence from the Corydon Avenue business.

      In another development, police says previous reports of hate crimes at the business are now being reviewed.

      Search warrant documents obtained by CBC News show police got authorization from the courts on May 2 to enter BerMax and seize a Wi-Fi router. While inside, they located and removed a second Wi-Fi router, a Wi-Fi modem, a signal booster and an Apple TV wireless hub.

      "All were seized for future examination into the public mischief charge laid against the owners of the Bermax Caffe," the document said.

      Oxana Berent, 48, her husband Alexander Berent, 56, and son Maxim Berent, 29, were charged with public mischief on April 24, six days after reporting their business had been the target of an anti-Semitic attack.

      All three are scheduled to make their first court appearance Wednesday afternoon.

      Winnipeg police executed a search warrant at BerMax Caffe and Bistro on May 2, more than a week after the owners of the business were charged with public mischief, CBC News has learned. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

      It's still not clear why police believe the Jewish family staged an anti-Semitic attack on their own business, or why police seized evidence after charges had already been laid.

      Affidavit sealed

      The police affidavit that would contain details of the investigation and what evidence officers hope to find in the wireless routers and digital equipment they seized is sealed until next year.

      It's also unclear whether this was the first or only time police executed a search warrant at BerMax.

      "An arrest does not signify an investigation is complete, and it is not unusual for officers to continue their investigations after an arrest is made, especially in complex matters like the Bermax incident," police Const. Jay Murray said, adding police won't be providing any further comments.

      Police had previously said BerMax had been the target of four hate crimes in the span of five months. A police spokesperson now says "all past reports to the police are going to be reviewed as part of this investigation."

      It's not clear whether police seized the Wi-Fi routers and wireless equipment to search for evidence connected with those cases.

      Family claims innocence

      In an April 24 interview with CBC the Berents claimed they were innocent and maintained they were the victims of a hate crime.

      "We didn't do it. We had no reason to do it," Maxim Berent said.
      In an April interview with CBC News, Oxana and Maxim Berent maintained they were victims of a hate crime, and denied staging the anti-Semitic attack. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

      "We don't joke about swastikas on our walls," Oxana Berent told CBC News. "My grandmother's family, they died in the Holocaust. Just her and her little brother survived, the whole family. We don't joke about that".

      Oxana had said that on the evening of the alleged attack she had been alone at BerMax preparing for Passover when somebody grabbed her and she fainted. She said she knows she was assaulted because when she woke up she had marks on her skin, her clothes were ripped, and her hand hurt.

      Police have publicly accused the Berents of vandalizing their business and spraying anti-Semiti graffiti on April 18, then falsely claiming they were victims of a hate crime. Police also accused them of falsely claiming Oxana Berent had been assaulted by an intruder during the incident.

      "We found evidence of a crime, it just wasn't a hate crime," Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth told reporters at the time.

      "I am disappointed and frankly angry that this family has used hate and racism in such a disingenuous way."

      Smyth also said police took the report seriously and expended considerable resources investigating it.

      CBC News reached out to the Berents for comment but has not heard back.

      Family in financial trouble

      BerMax has been closed since the April 18 incident. On April 25, its lease was terminated by J.L. Crawford Holdings Inc., the owner of the Corydon Avenue building where BerMax had been renting space since May 2014.
      A letter posted on the window BerMax Caffé and Bistro on April 26 says the restaurant's lease has been terminated because rent hadn't been paid. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

      A notice posted on the window said BerMax had failed to pay rent and the lease had been cancelled.

      According to court records the Berents have been facing financial trouble for some time.

      In August 2018, they were ordered to pay $114,147 to Business Development Bank of Canada after defaulting on a loan.

      The bank's statement of claim said BerMax took out a $150,000  loan in 2014 but has only paid back about $40,000.

      In May 2018 a court ordered BerMax Design Ltd., a company owned by Oxana Berent, to pay $33,000 to a Winnipeg couple.

      In April of this year Royal Bank of Canada sued Maxim Berent for $43,000 plus interest in credit card debt. That statement of claim has not been tested in court and Berent has not responded to it.

      About the Author

      Caroline Barghout

      Investigative Reporter, CBC Manitoba I-Team

      Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: caroline.barghout@cbc.ca

      with files from Ismila Alfa, Austin Grabish, Aidan Geary, Cameron MacLean, Bartley Kives, Ahmar Khan