08/08/2013 08:15 EDT | Updated 10/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Montreal police rent building from convicted drug trafficker

The Montreal police were red-faced today after admitting its anti-gang squad, known as Éclipse, has been renting a building from a family trust headed by a convicted drug trafficker with ties to the Mafia.

The building at 6665 Papineau St. in the borough of Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie is owned by the Armeni Family Trust, headed by Vincenzo Armeni — now serving a19-year prison term for drug dealing.

Montreal police Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière said the department has been renting that location for more than 15 years, first serving as a neighbourhood police station, until 2008, when the Éclipse squad moved in.

Before it became a police station, the building had been operated as a bakery by members of the family, according to an investigative report in the Montreal Gazette. By 2005, it had been turned over to the Armeni Family Trust.

The Montreal police began doing background checks on leases in 2006, Lafrenière said — but not on lease renewals. Checks on renewals only became routine practice four years later.

"It's only in 2010 that we discovered that one of the persons ... [did not have] a very good reputation, let's say," said Lafrenière.

No way to break lease

The police anti-gang squad stayed on, Lafrenière said, because it was impossible to break the lease.

"Taxpayers in Montreal would have been paying [for] that location for three years, for no reason. That's insane!" Lafrenière said.

"Yes, it looks very weird that to be in a location [where] one of the owners is not a very well-recommended person. But this is even worse — to pay for a building like that, and you're not there."

Heroin and cocaine trafficking

Armeni has a long list of convictions for trafficking heroin and cocaine dating back to the 1980s, and a lengthy association with other known Mafia members.

According to the Gazette, in 2003 Armeni persuaded the National Parole Board that he had cut ties with the Mafia for the sake of his children.

He was arrested again in 2006 for cocaine-trafficking while still out on parole, and in 2007 he was given a stiff 19-year sentence.

Lafrenière said the family trust headed by the mobster has been a good landlord, and there were never any security concerns.

He said only police could gain access to the building, with a special security card.

The lease expires in October, and Éclipse is now looking for a new home.

"The last thing you want to do as a police officer is give some money to people close to organized crime," said Lafrenière. "So that's why we're moving now."