Tow truck turf war leads Toronto-area police to lay nearly 200 charges
TORONTO -- Toronto-area police have laid nearly 200 charges, including first-degree murder, against members of “several organized crime groups working within the towing industry.”
“Organized crime begins with an opportunity to make money and a level of greed that leads to criminality and violence,” Supt. Mike Slack with York Regional Police said in a video released on Tuesday morning.
“The towing industry and its lack of regulations have bred exactly that environment.”
According to police, the Greater Toronto Area has been “the scene of violence between rival tow truck companies” for a long period of time.
In response to the violence, officers with York Regional Police began working with members of the Ontario Provincial Police, the Toronto Police Service and the Canada Revenue Agency on a joint-forces investigation, dubbed Project Platinum, in February.
The investigation led officers to identify “several organized crime groups working within the towing industry who have used violence and property damage as a means to gain control and territory.”
Officers said those involved have been “fighting over financial profits from the towing of vehicles and, the most significant source of profit, the frauds following the initial tow.”
“Overtime, unscrupulous companies and the people working for them have found ways to inflate costs and victimize consumers,” Slack said.
As the networks grew within the towing industry, Slack said, allegiances were built and hierarchies were established in an effort to increase profits.
“Organized criminal tow grips have been formed,” he said. “As its profits increase, so has its demand for territory, and with that so has the need to control that territory through violence.”
Investigators added that when these profits weren’t enough, those involved would “stage collisions using drivers they recruited.”
“The tow companies partnered with auto repair shops, as well as car and truck rental companies, to carry out their frauds. Insurance companies worked to mitigate the fraud and additional costs to the consumer and actively pursued legal action against various tow companies,” police said in a news release issued on Tuesday.
One Vaughan, Ont. law firm, Carr Law, was hired by the insurance companies and later became the target of violence, threats and extortion, police said.
Police seize more than 40 illegal firearms
As part of Project Platinum, search warrants were executed on April 30 and May 1 in Brantford and Hamilton. At the time, five suspects were taken into police custody and were charged.
Then, on May 20, search warrants were executed at residences and businesses in Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Hamilton, Oakville, Toronto, Aurora, and East Gwillimbury. Three suspects were arrested and charged.
A total of 20 people now face a combined 191 charges, including one charge of first-degree murder and three charges of attempted murder. The suspects range between the ages of 20 and 49.
Throughout the investigation, 11 tow trucks were seized, as well as 16 handguns, 13 shotguns, nine rifles, one machine gun, one air pistol converted to .22 calibre pistol, one sawed-off shotgun and three high-capacity drum magazines. Thousands of rounds of ammunitions, of various calibres, were also seized by police.
Investigators seized five kilograms of fentanyl, 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, 1.25 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, 1.5 kilograms of cannabis, and more than $500,000 as well during the search warrants.
The investigation remains “ongoing,” police said on Tuesday.
Anyone with further information is asked to contact investigators at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7818 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).