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50 charges laid against cop and 10 others in Toronto-area tow truck corruption ring
TORONTO -- A months-long investigation involving the Toronto-area tow truck industry led to the seizure of a stolen encrypted police radio and eventually saw a cop and 10 other people be charged with a combined 50 criminal offences.
“This officer faces multiple charges for his alleged role in this investigation,” Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said during a news conference held on Monday morning. “We further allege that each of the arrested individuals had been involved in organized crime and have links to the tow truck industry.”
Back in August 2019, members of the Toronto Police Service’s professional standards unit initiated an investigation into the theft of encrypted radios.
Speaking alongside the chief on Monday, Supt. Dominic Sinopoli detailed the investigation to the media, noting that as it progressed, “the corruption revealed itself.”
Sinopoli said a group of tow truck drivers, operating primarily in 22, 13 and 32 divisions, were using stolen police radios “to facilitate their business interests.”
“The transmissions were broadcasted to other tow truck drivers for a fee through the use of an internet-based app,” he said.
Throughout the investigation, police said they realized that one officer was allegedly responsible for the theft of an encrypted radio, which was cloned and put back into circulation within the Toronto Police Service.
That officer has been identified as 47-year-old Const. Ronald Joseph, of 22 Division in south Etobicoke.
“The same officer was receiving monetary compensation for informing the said group on accident locations,” Sinopoli said. “The same officer was also operating a car rental agency and owned two tow trucks, which were being operated by members of the group.”
Sinopoli also added that Joseph would receive “kickbacks for the tips he provided” and would receive referrals to his car rental agency through this group of tow truck drivers.
Joseph, who was a member of the Toronto Police Service for 11 years, has now been charged with theft over $5,000 and breach of trust. He has been suspended with pay as per the terms of the Police Services Act.
How investigators cracked the case
Nine months into the investigation, officers stopped an “involved tow truck driver” allegedly driving dangerously along Highway 400 on May 9.
At the time, a Toronto Police Service radio was seized from the vehicle, Sinopoli said.
“The investigation into this particular radio revealed that at the time of inquiry there was currently a radio at 22 Division bearing the same identification,” he said. “Investigators attended 22 Division and retrieved the said radio and when examined by our technicians, revealed that it was a cloned version of the radio seized.”
The driver of the tow truck, who has been identified by police as 27-year-old Barrie resident Kevin Lima, had a “genuine” Toronto police radio and officers were using a cloned version.
A few weeks later, on May 26, officers executed residential search warrants at addresses in Brampton, Barrie and Toronto. During these search warrants, investigators seized at least one Toronto police radio that was previously reported lost or stolen from 14 Division. As well, other radios and radio parts belonging to “other organizations” were seized at the time, police said.
Then, Sinopoli said, three involved tow truck drivers, identified by police as Lima, 21-year-old Toronto resident Jacob Villeneuve Portela and 27-year-old Guelph resident Giuseppe Carfora, who were all in one vehicle in a Toronto parking lot on June 9, were arrested. During the arrests, a Toronto police radio was seized from the vehicle, as well as a loaded handgun.
Following these arrests and the arrest of the Toronto police officer, investigators executed additional search warrants on five residential and seven commercial properties across Ontario on June 18.
A total of $35,000 in cash was seized by officers and six tow trucks belonging to three different companies.
The seven other individuals facing charges in connection with this investigation have been identified by police as 41-year-old Toronto resident Francisco Mike Portela, 50-year-old Toronto resident Mark Wolfe, 21-year-old Mississauga resident Leonardo Ciulla, 32-year-old Vaughan resident Hernani Capela, 28-year-old Mississauga resident Michael Carreiro, 49-year-old Toronto resident Francesco Carusom and 39-year-old Brampton resident Tyson Plourde.
All of the accused are expected to appear in court on Sept. 4 in downtown Toronto.
Tow truck industry ‘rife with corruption’
Sinopoli said he acknowledges that the local tow truck industry is “rife with corruption,” but noted that “doesn’t necessarily mean all tow truck drivers are corrupt.”
“There are certain individuals taking advantage of the system and opportunities available to them to facilitate their business interests,” he said.
The Toronto-area tow truck industry has been the target of scrutiny over the past two years amidst a turf-war involving numerous arsons and at least one murder.
About a month ago, York Regional Police, who also helped the Toronto Police Service in this investigation, announced nearly 200 charges, including first-degree murder, had been laid against members of “several organized crime group working within the towing industry.”