Two people are facing charges and a third is being sought after Toronto police and loss-prevention officers cracked a "sophisticated" and organized shoplifting ring that they say targeted major retailers in southwestern Ontario and as far away as Montreal.

In what police are calling one of the largest "loss-prevention recovery investigations" in North American history, officers raided two locations near Jane Street and Sheppard Avenue West last Thursday, seizing about $390,000 worth of stolen items – from pants and bras to bottles of foot cream and tubes of toothpaste – that were being sold for a profit out of a house that was set up like a retail store, investigators said Wednesday.

Part of the house had display shelves stocked with the stolen items, allowing customers to browse the merchandise, while other rooms were used to store the rest of the stock, said Det. Bruno Miron.

"Just the sheer volume of property recovered … was shocking to us," Miron told CP24 crime specialist Sue Sgambati after a news conference, where police displayed dozens of bags filled with stolen goods that still had price tags from the stores.

Some of the items that were seized include:

  • 1,103 pairs of pants
  • 1,532 shirts or sweaters
  • 1,563 bras
  • 2,505 pairs of underwear
  • 736 bottles of cologne or perfume
  • 994 bottles of hand or foot cream
  • 639 bottles of shampoo
  • 294 tubes of toothpaste

Miron said the group’s alleged ringleaders are accused of paying people to “blitz” nearly two dozen stores, mostly in the GTA, and steal as much as they could.

Most stores have anti-theft gates that activate an alarm when an item with an unchecked security tag passes through, but Miron said the hired thieves used “fabricated bags” to defeat security features within the stores.

"With some basic material they were able to defeat the security features," said Miron, who declined to provide more details about the altered bags to avoid giving a lesson to potential thieves.

Miron said police do not know how long the group had been operating, but investigators became aware of the thefts when someone provided an anonymous tip about two months ago.

Police partnered with some of the retailers’ loss-prevention departments to identify and arrest the suspects. Police are attempting to identify additional suspects.

Miron said people who purchased the property were also breaking the law because it is illegal to buy stolen goods.

The Retail Council of Canada says most people don’t realize these types of thefts affect all consumers.

Every year, retailers lose about $4 billion due to internal and external crimes, in addition to administrative errors. The costs are passed on to consumers.

Police said Toronto residents Thi Loc Doan, 48, and The Ha Long, 50, are charged with possession of property obtained by crime (over $5,000) and possession of stolen goods (over $5,000) for the purpose of trafficking.

A warrant has been issued for 45-year-old Thi Ho.

Anyone with information is asked to call police at 416-808-2200 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).

With files from CP24 crime specialist Sue Sgambati.