Police recover $4.5M worth of stolen high-end vehicles after busting high-tech GTA car theft ring
TORONTO -- Police in the Greater Toronto Area say they have busted a car theft ring and seized more than $4.5 million worth of high-end vehicles stolen from GTA driveways.
On Tuesday, police executed eight search warrants across the GTA and in Brossard, Quebec following a two-month-long investigation, dubbed “Project Majestic.”
The project focused on the thefts of Lexus, Toyota and Honda sport utility vehicles (SUVs) throughout the Greater Toronto Area, York Regional Police said in a statement describing the investigation Thursday.
Police said the investigation began in December 2020 and they identified a criminal syndicate responsible for stealing high-end vehicles overnight from the driveways of homes across the GTA.
“Typically what we were seeing was that groups of thieves would target affluent residential areas in the GTA” Det. Scott Cresswell of the York Regional Police Auto Cargo Theft Unit said in a video statement online. “They would generally scout cars in the early evening hours. Returning in the early morning hours, they would force entry to the vehicle.”
According to police, the suspects would enter the vehicle and reprogram the ignition computer to recognize a new key, or fob, allowing it to be driven away.
Surveillance footage released by police shows on such theft.
“The total time that this vehicle would have needed to be stolen would have been under five minutes,” Cresswell said.
The vehicles were then driven directly to the Port of Montreal or loaded into a sea container in Toronto and transported to Montreal by rail. The containers were then loaded onto ships and delivered to buyers in Africa or the United Arab Emirates, mainly through ports in Nigeria and Ghana.
Cresswell said the vehicles being targeted are particularly valuable in the destinations where they were being sent.
He said the ring operated with several levels, with groups of thieves bringing stolen vehicles to traffickers.
So far 60 vehicles have been recovered and police expect to seize more.
“There's also a large number of vehicles that have been containerized and are currently at sea that we've targeted for inspection when they reach their port and we expect to recover more stolen vehicles when that's done,” Cresswell said.
Toronto, Peel and Durham police were also involved in the investigation, along with the Canadian Border Services Agency and the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Police said 18 people are now facing 170 offences in connection with the thefts.
Cresswell said Project Majestic has made “a significant dent in the criminal organization.”
However he advised car owners to take measures to protect their vehicles, including parking inside a garage and/or using a steering wheel club.
Police are asking anyone with further information to contact investigators.