Former head of London Hells Angels, Robert Barletta, was recently arrested and charged with money laundering and tax evasion in a multi-million-dollar gambling operation that started already back in 2018. More than 20 different law-enforcement agencies were involved in the arrest of Barletta and four other people, while three development companies and assets of $24 million were seized.
Police descended on locations in London, Oakville, Toronto, Pickering, Welland and Thornbury in a coordinated effort to apprehend as many suspects as possible. Outlaw bikers using development companies to launder money through gaming sites shows a whole new level of sophistication according to head of Ontario’s biker enforcement unit.
“I see them (outlaw motorcycle clubs) as almost equal to the mob. They are in close status and stature to the mob,” said Det. Staff Sgt Scott Wade. “This is high-level organized crime.”
During the investigation named Operation Hobart, there have been more than a dozen arrests since its inception and police have seized weapons, drugs, money, properties, and vehicles. Several suspects have been killed before capture as a result of rivalry between different organizations involved.
In 2019, Hells Angels member Michael Deabauta-Schulde, was killed outside a gym in Mississauga. He was believed to be a part of the same illegal gambling activities investigated in Operation Hobart. Three men from Montreal have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the case.
“The violence is because of the profits. If we only arrest people and if we don’t seize the profits, we’re only doing half the job,” Wade said.
Barletta has been on the police radar for many years and even earned the nickname “Teflon Biker” because he kept his record clean while co-funding and even running the London chapter of Hells Angels for a time. The only legal setback during that time was losing a liquor license for a strip club called Famous Flesh Gordon’s.
Possible dangers on the horizon
While Barletta was indeed arrested and charged, he remains out on bail and is currently not in custody. This could have fatal consequences as the former Hells Angels biker is rumored to have many enemies out on the streets.
Wade declined to comment and the possibility of death threats to Barletta but noted that “there is a lot of violence in the outlaw motorcycle world and specifically in this organized crime group, within and without.”
On August 12, 2020, a home linked to Barletta was set ablaze in a suspected arson. The two-storey house is owned by Salvatrice and Domenico Barletta. The house was occupied at the time the fire started, but all managed to evacuate unscathed.
Fire marshals and police were quick to arrive on the scene and determined that the fire had started under suspicious circumstances.
“We are here because it’s deemed a suspicious fire. We need to go through the environment to determine what exactly happened,” said Andrea Gaynor, an Ontario Fire Marshal investigator. “No one was injured. There were occupants, but they self-evacuate.”
“People want to place bets. If they can’t place bets in a lawful way, they’ll do it as they’ve been doing it.” – Don Bourgeois, Gaming and Regulation Group
Billions of dollars in tax revenue lost
Sports betting on single event is currently illegal in Canada and the government is missing out on billions of dollars in tax revenue. This latest bust has prompted advocates of changing gambling laws to allow legal betting on single sports events to take some money out of the illegal industry, which is said to run in the tens of billions of dollars each year.
“People want to place bets. If they can’t place bets in a lawful way, they’ll do it as they’ve been doing it,” said Don Bourgeois of the Gaming and Regulation Group, a consultant to the gaming industry.
At the moment, Ontario allows only what is called parlay wagers, where punters have to correctly predict the outcome of at least two sporting events to win. This is what critics say creates a huge market for unlawfully placed bets in Canada.
The government is currently looking into a letter sent in June by Waugh and Windsor West Democratic MP Brian Masse to the prime minister and federal justice minister. In his letter he argues that allowing for sports betting on single events would boost government revenues, combat underground gambling, and create jobs.
“So, we’re not talking about the type of gambling activity in which you go somewhere in the cloak of darkness and place your bet,” Bourgeois said. “No, you’re talking about companies that have been reviewed for eligibility, honesty, integrity, and financial stability.”