The case of SUVs being stolen from midtown driveways has been solved — and it may be the biggest breakup of an auto theft ring in Canadian history.
As a part of what police call Project CBG, they arrested 19 people and are looking for five more they say are involved in a “sophisticated organized crime ring” to take SUVs from owners’ driveways and ship them to Africa for sale.
The accused include the alleged leaders of the group, as well as rail-yard employees, truck drivers, shipping company employees, car thieves and a Service Ontario employee.
Police expect to lay at least 640 charges once everyone is apprehended in the case, which investigators say resulted in about 500 SUVs being stolen at a total value of over $30 million.
Police noticed an uptick in SUV thefts starting in January, and by the time arrests were made Dec. 10, officers believe the group was responsible for between 10 and 15 percent of all vehicle thefts in Toronto in 2015.
“As this investigation progressed, it became apparent this was more than petty thieves hot-wiring cars,” said Deputy Chief Jim Ramer of special operations command during a news conference.
Police allege the intricate theft ring worked like this:
- New SUVs would arrive at two yards (one in Scarborough, one in Vaughan) and an employee would take a picture of the vehicle identification number, which along with the security code for the vehicle, would be sold to the crime group
- One of two keys that come with a new vehicle would go missing, and within days of the new vehicle being sold, it would be stolen from the owner’s driveway
- The VINs would be provided by the crime group to a Service Ontario employee who would then find the vehicle owner’s address
- The stolen key codes would be given to a locksmith who would cut new keys
- A team of thieves would be given a “shopping list” of addresses and associated SUVs to steal, often managing to take five or six in a single night
- Security codes would be reprogrammed and the vehicle would be gone within seconds or minutes, and taken to shipping companies in North York and Etobicoke, before being sent to shipping ports in Montreal and Halifax
- Within days of the theft, the vehicle would have a new VIN and would be on a ship heading overseas to Nigeria or Ghana
Police allege about 300 of the 500 stolen vehicles came from Toronto. The hardest hit areas were South Etobicoke, North York and midtown Toronto.
Staff Inspector Mike Earl said some people, particularly those in the harder hit areas like midtown, were victimized more than once.
“They had the first vehicle stolen and would purchase a second one — another vehicle stolen,” he said.
Earl said he was unaware of a bigger auto theft ring case in Canadian history.
The stolen vehicles — mainly higher end Toyota, Lexus and Acura SUVs — have an estimated value of more than $30 million.
Police executed 36 search warrants at the conclusion of the investigation, resulting in seizing about 200 vehicles, 179 of which were found in shipping containers. Police also seized a shotgun, two high-powered rifles and heroin and cocaine.
Police arrested 19 people, who face a combined 375 charges. Five more are being sought on 265 charges.
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