Salvation Army thefts larger than first thought
Det. Robert Strain reveals a truckload of goods recovered as part of the Salvation Army theft investigation. (Tamara Cherry/CTV Toronto)
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012 6:00PM EST
After months of waiting, thousands of items stolen from the Salvation Army were returned to the Railside Rd. warehouse Thursday -- and it was more than just toys.
Two tractor trailers arrived at 150 Railside Rd. throughout the day, locked up and sealed with police tape. After the seals were ripped off and locks were cut, the doors opened to reveal dozens of skids stacked high with goods.
The recovery of more stolen goods has revealed that the scope of the theft was much larger than previously thought.
"We have approximately five trucks of product that was recovered," said Toronto police Det. Sgt. Jim Gotell, whose team of investigators recovered the stolen goods.
"They're 53-foot trailers and they're completely full of product. So far in the first truck, we had infant supplies, cribs, strollers, food, health care products, things of that nature."
Another 38 skids were in the second truck, stacked with bedding, food and dolls, Gotell said.
The items were photographed and counted as they were removed from the rig. The remaining tractor trailers, including those filled with toys, were expected to be returned Friday.
Salvation Army spokesman Maj. John Murray hesitated to say if the toys would be ready for Christmas distribution.
"I think it's important for people to realize as of today, we have not received any toy product back yet," Murray said outside the warehouse. "We do anticipate receiving some of that product over perhaps the next 72 hours here at Railside.
"Again, it will be up to the police to assess that, to look at the value of that and hopefully then we'll be able to put it out into the system over the next couple weeks in anticipation of Christmas."
But Gotell said that as soon as the product is unloaded from the trucks, it's in the hands of the Salvation Army.
"After the product leaves the truck, we're taking inventory as it leaves, we're taking photographs of the property and once it's in the warehouse, it's back to the Salvation Army and they can distribute it immediately," Gotell said.
The story began to unravel in August. That's when the Salvation Army says an employee first blew the whistle on suspicious behaviour at the Railside Rd. warehouse. An internal audit revealed that some 100,000 donated toys with an estimated value of $2 million were missing.
Warehouse executive director David Rennie was suspended just before three Sally Ann officials met with police in late September. But the case did not land on the desks of 33 Division investigators until early November.
On Nov. 19, the same day that the Salvation Army in Ottawa announced the firing of an executive director there, Rennie was fired in Toronto. The following week, he walked into 33 Division station, surrendering to several charges, including theft over $5,000 and criminal breach of trust.
Investigators allege that as executive director, Rennie worked with the owner of Northern Sales Group to move product out of the warehouse, sometimes diverting shipments of donations entirely, in order to flip them for a profit.
Northern Sales Group owner Umaish Ramrattan surrendered on the same charges as Rennie.
Since the story broke, the focus has been on the missing toys, with scores of Torontonians and local businesses stepping forward to fill the void with toy donations as the annual Toy Mountain campaign kicked into gear.
But it was not until Thursday Dec. 6, when the three tractor trailers of goods arrived at the warehouse, that a clearer picture emerged of just how massive this theft really was.
Neither Murray nor Gotell would speculate on a dollar amount just yet.
"It's going to take some time working with police to assess and actually put a dollar amount to those goods," Murray said, adding later, "It's wonderful to know that this is coming back into the care of the Salvation Army and it's going to be used for its intended purpose."
Gotell applauded his officers for the long hours dedicated to recovering the stolen goods.
"It's important for us to get the toys back for the children of the City of Toronto and for the Greater Toronto Area and that's obviously very important, but the other things that were taken are the staples that help people who are in need 365 days a year. People need food, they need clothing, they need these things that are going to be helping them each and every day," Gotell said.
"They (investigators) have worked really hard on this but again, it's because of the holiday season, they really wanted to make sure that if there were things out there that they could recover, they could get them to people who need them over the holidays and they've done a phenomenal job. I'm really proud of them."
But the investigation is not over yet.
Gotell reached out to anyone who has purchased goods from Northern Sales Group to contact police, adding there are likely more stolen goods out there that have not been found.
"We're looking at everything that we've seized so far -- documents and records to determine who's culpable in this," Gotell said.
Anyone with information was asked to call 33 Division at 416-808-3300.