Former ServiceOntario employee among those arrested in $10-million auto-theft operation

Four men were arrested and face 28 charges, including participating in a criminal organization, fraud over $5,000, tampering with vehicle identification numbers, and using forged documents, a news release said.

Former ServiceOntario employee among those arrested in $10-million auto-theft operation
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Toronto police announced on Friday that an organized auto theft ring was dismantled after four men were arrested and 100 stolen vehicles were recovered.

The operation, dubbed "Project Poacher," started in January 2024.

It aimed to identify and apprehend members of a group suspected of stealing and re-registering numerous motor vehicles using a method known as re-vinning, according to Det. Daniel Kraehling.

Throughout the investigation, Kraehling reported that police discovered the group was collaborating with a former ServiceOntario employee, who was allegedly being compensated to supply them with fraudulent documents and license plates.

"It's alleged that the suspects would provide the former employee with vehicle identification numbers (VINs) for vehicles that had previously been sold and exported out of the country," Kraehling said, reports CBC.

"In exchange for money, the former employee would then create new, legitimate-looking vehicle registrations and licence plates for these 'clean' VINs. These falsified documents were then used to re-vin the stolen vehicles, effectively disguising them and making them appear legitimate."

The newly "vinned" vehicles would then be sold to unknowing buyers through online marketplaces or apps, Kraehling said.

Kraehling said that the purpose of re-vinning a vehicle is to create a domestic market for stolen cars rather than exporting them to foreign countries to be sold.

Four men were arrested and face 28 charges, including participating in a criminal organization, fraud over $5,000, tampering with vehicle identification numbers, and using forged documents, a news release said.

More than 100 vehicles worth nearly $10 million were seized. Of the 100 vehicles, 21 were re-vinned luxury vehicles valued at $1.8 million total.

Vehicle thefts in Toronto increased by 24.7 percent last year compared to 2022, with 12,262 incidents reported in 2023, as per the Toronto Police's major crimes indicator dashboard. This significant rise came after a 47.4 percent surge in 2022 from 2021.

Additionally, multiple Ontario police forces have reported an uptick in violent carjackings.

The Toronto police have been slow to address the issue and at one point even told citizens to leave their car keys at the front door to avoid thieves breaking in to their homes.

"To prevent the possibility of being attacked in your home, leave your fobs at your front door, because thieves are breaking into homes solely to steal cars. They don't want anything else," said TPS Constable Marco Ricciardi. He recommended doing so to avoid confrontations with carjackers that could turn violent.

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