25 August 2017 0 Comments Posted By : Dan Fumano

Dan Fumano: City in protracted battle to cancel business licence of tea shop

The small tea shop, on Kingsway just east of Vancouver’s Little Saigon neighbourhood, appears innocuous and quiet, a calm respite from one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares outside.

It was also the target of a four-month undercover police investigation last year leading to criminal charges related to the alleged black-market trade of purportedly stolen items, ranging from European perfumes and liquors to power tools, according to court filings and police documents.

Details of the Vancouver Police Anti-Fencing Unit’s investigation are included in police documents obtained by Postmedia News, and while none of the resulting criminal charges have been tested in court, the undercover operation has also led to the city now trying to revoke the tea shop’s business licence.

The file provides a rare glimpse into Vancouver’s business licence revocation process — something that only happens between zero and two times a year, according to the city — in an especially protracted case.

Late last year, after reviewing the findings of the police undercover operation, Vancouver’s deputy chief licence inspector Sarah Hicks recommended revoking the business licence of the Thuong Dang Danh Tea Shop on Kingsway, alleging “gross misconduct” and harmful effects on other businesses and community members. The business premises, the police had alleged, were being used for afencing operation, to buy and order stolen goods.

Police arrested 53-year-old shopkeeper Van De Nguyen in May of 2016, and last December, three charges were laid against him. The sworn charge information filed with the court alleges Nguyen instructed an undercover officer to commit theft, was in possession of more than $5,000 worth of “the property of various retailers” knowing it had been stolen, and tried to purchase purportedly stolen items “including cologne, perfume, liquor, power tools and bathroom fixtures.”

When city staff recommend cancelling a business licence, the matter is referred to a hearing with a panel of three city councillors for a decision. (In this case, the panel is made up of Councillors Heather Deal, Adriane Carr, and Tim Stevenson, with Raymond Louie as an alternate.)

Although the tea shop licence hearing was scheduled for February of this year, it has been postponed three times, and is now adjourned without a date. The earliest possible date for the hearing would be in October.

It has been unusually slow going, according to an emailed statement from Hicks and Iain Dixon of the city’s legal department: “These do not normally take that long. … This is not typical. It has been particularly difficult to get scheduled due mainly to the ongoing criminal process associated with the allegations.”

In the meantime, the shop remains in business, with Nguyen “adamant about his innocence,” said his lawyer Tony Lagemaat.

Details of the Vancouver Police investigation and city inspector’s dealings with Nguyen and the Thuong Dang Danh Tea Shop are outlined in a 223-page package of city and police documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request. In 2014, Vancouver police officers developed an intelligence file on the shop “as a possible fencing operation after observing a well-known, prolific property crime offender frequenting the store,” the police report says, adding that in February 2016, detectives received “reliable information” about the purchasing of “stolen property from local drug addicts on the Kingsway strip.” 

Between February and May of last year, an officer conducted six undercover scenarios, trying to sell purportedly stolen property to Nguyen, with details of those encounters outlined in police notes.

Postmedia attempted to speak to Nguyen and was referred to his lawyer, Lagemaat, who said that for Nguyen, who he described as a hard-working shop-owner who doesn’t speak English, the business licence represents a “much bigger concern” than the criminal charges.

“The business license is his livelihood,” Lagemaat said. “I’ve got all his accounting records and it’s a thriving, legitimate business.

“It is my feeling that the city is attempting to revoke his business licence based on criminal allegations that have not been proven in a court of law. It seems unduly harsh what they’re doing to him, when you look at all these dispensaries on every corner that they’re essentially turning a blind eye to.”

Vancouver’s municipal licensing department doesn’t always make headlines, but it has been in the news lately, often connected to the city’s pioneering approach to regulating retail cannabis. In recent weeks, Postmedia has reported on issues highlighting challenges on that front, including confusion following a data breach and a growing pile of unpaid bylaw tickets.

Nguyen is set to stand trial in February on the criminal charges.


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