B.C.’s Civil Forfeiture Office is trying to seize a Vancouver penthouse from a man caught earlier this year repeatedly hosting dozens at an illegal nightclub that allegedly involved exotic dancers, live DJs, a full-service bar and even COVID-19 waivers asking guests to acknowledge the risks of their partying during the second wave of the pandemic.
Party host Mohammad Movassaghi was sentenced in Provincial Court to one day in jail, fined $5,000 and given 18 months’ probation after he pleaded guilty on April 28 to disobeying a court order, failing to comply with a health officer’s order and unlawfully purchasing grain alcohol. Those charges related to police executing a warrant at the $2.8-million condo on Jan. 31 and finding 78 unmasked revellers inside, some of whom were involved with organized crime, according to court documents.
Shortly after Mr. Movassaghi entered his guilty plea this spring, British Columbia’s Director of Civil Forfeiture filed a lawsuit against him and two other people linked to the property for $8,740 in cash found on the premises when police raided the makeshift club, which was called “Granny’s Exotic Lounge” according to signs inside the venue and T-shirts worn by bartenders. Now, the provincial agency wants to seize whatever portion of the property he owns because Mr. Movassaghi allegedly continued to throw illegal parties in his home throughout August, according to a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Sept. 24.
The office alleges, in its lawsuit, that Mr. Movassaghi became the registered owner of the property almost a year ago, in part financing its purchase with a down payment of nearly $1-million. The agency alleges it can target the property because some or all the funds used to buy it were proceeds of crime. The agency also alleges that his continued operation of the nightclub in August – when hundreds of guests were allegedly observed partying there over six nights – means the condo is an instrument of unlawful activity.
The Civil Forfeiture Office, which was established as a way to fight organized crime but has come to have a far broader reach, has the power to seize assets from people without charging them criminally.
The lawsuit alleges Mr. Movassaghi worked as a financial planner until 2017, when he was fined $27,500 by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada for admitting to forging a client signature on various documents.
The office also alleges Mr. Movassaghi’s brother is associated to known organized criminals. His other brother, whom the lawsuit states is his lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the civil forfeiture proceedings Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Movassaghi has not filed a response yet to the lawsuit.
When he was sentenced in April, Justice Ellen Gordon chastised Mr. Movassaghi for hosting “a crime, not a party,” adding she would consider it manslaughter if a guest at the penthouse was infected and later died.
The Vancouver Coastal Health authority declined to say Tuesday whether any COVID-19 cases were traced back to these parties, citing patient confidentiality. Neither Granny’s nor the penthouse address were ever listed on the agency’s online list of public exposures, which it posts when contact tracers aren’t able to reach everyone who may have come into close contact with a person who was contagious.
News of the illicit partying generated a public uproar.
At a pandemic briefing shortly after Vancouver police stopped a party at the condo on Jan. 31, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said she appreciated the intervention at the venue, which she characterized as “offensive” given the way COVID-19 was hitting society.
With research from Rick Cash
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