More than 200 stolen cars have been recovered and 28 people have been charged, including an unspecified number of Service Ontario employees, in connection with the dismantling of three car theft-based criminal organizations operating in Ontario and Saskatchewan, police say .
According to the Ontario Provincial Police, a 22-month investigation, titled Project MYRA, began in September 2022 after police uncovered a car theft ring they say was changing vehicle identification numbers (VINs). stolen vehicles for sale.
Police say the robberies occurred primarily in Ontario.
As a result of the investigation, police said they recovered 215 vehicles that they say are worth more than $12 million. According to investigators, about 37 percent of the vehicles recovered were Acuras or Hondas.
“A wide range of stolen vehicles, including high-end vehicles, have been recovered,” OPP Deputy Commissioner Chuck Cox told reporters at a news conference Thursday. “Some vehicles recovered by the investigation team have been linked to other criminal activities.”
Total, police said 28 people were chargedincluding employees of Service Ontario.
Police allege that Service Ontario employees assisted with the “illegitimate search of stolen vehicles.” Authorities did not say how many employees were involved.
Of those charged, 26 are from Ontario, while two are from Saskatchewan..
The suspects’ ages range from 27 to 59 and are primarily residents of the Greater Toronto Area; however, some of the defendants were also from Stoney Creek, Kitchener, Caledon, Bradford, and Gravenhurst.
In all, just over 240 charges were filed. Crimes vary and include use of a forged document, trafficking in criminal proceeds, fraud of more than $5,000, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, and breach of trust.
Police said they executed a total of 44 search warrants throughout the investigation, resulting in the seizure of six firearms, 230 grams of suspected fentanyl, 1,840 grams of suspected cocaine, 77 kilograms of cannabis, 150 grams of suspected cannabis resin and 10 grams of suspected psilocybin.
Investigators said they also seized $160,000 in cash and $8,400 in US currency. Two money counters and two laser marking machines were also found.
“This investigation has not focused on petty vehicle theft. Defendants have used these fraudulently registered vehicles to engage in criminal activity,” OPP Det. in sp. Andy Bradford said.
The Ontario Provincial Police said the joint investigation resulted in the dismantling of three criminal organizations allegedly involved in the fraudulent modification and sale of stolen vehicles.
The former was based in the Peel region and was responsible for altering the VINs of stolen vehicles in Ontario and then reselling them, police said.
The second was based in the Durham and Toronto region, police said. This ring is alleged to have fraudulently registered stolen vehicles in Saskatchewan, transferred fraudulent vehicle documents to Ontario, registered the vehicles and resold them to various individuals. Police say these vehicles were also sold to other criminal networks.
The remaining organization was based in York Region and dealt primarily with high-end stolen vehicles, police said.
“By changing the VINs of these vehicles, these criminal organizations were able to fraudulently register the vehicles and take advantage of consumers who may have unknowingly purchased a stolen vehicle,” Cox said. “Ontarians deserve peace of mind when it comes to making a purchase as large as a vehicle.”
“We want to take this opportunity to remind everyone to be extremely cautious when purchasing a used vehicle. If any part of the transaction or anything leading up to the transaction appears suspicious, please do not provide funds and contact the police.”
Five of the accused remain in custody, while the remaining 23 suspects are due to appear in court in July and August.
HUNDREDS MORE STOLEN VEHICLES RECOVERED IN PEEL
Police forces in Ontario have warned that they are seeing an increase in vehicle thefts in recent months. In addition to a series of violent carjackings, vehicle owners have also seen their belongings removed from their driveways in the middle of the night.
In January of this year, some two dozen people were charged with a combined 300 felonies in connection with a “prolific car theft ring” in the Greater Toronto Area. And in April, CTV News Toronto traced a stolen vehicle from overseas Ontario to a suburb of Lagos in Africa.
“We are currently seeing hundreds of stolen vehicles on a monthly basis, which is substantially higher than previous months,” said Peel Regional Deputy Police Chief Nick Milinovich. “This is a problem and a concern that extends outside of our jurisdiction and province.”
Milinovich said that while about 200 vehicles have been recovered in Project MYRA, in Peel that number is closer to 1,000 to date. In total, the vehicles are worth about $42 million.