Two York Region men are among 28 Ontario and Saskatchewan residents arrested following a multi-jurisdictional investigation into the fraudulent modification and sale of hundreds of stolen vehicles, including an organization linked to high-end automobiles being resold in York Region.
Police have currently recovered 214 vehicles — Honda/Acura accounted for 37 per cent of them — valued at more than $12 million in the investigation dubbed Project MYRA, according to an Ontario Provincial Police news release.
The investigation began in September 2020 after an auto theft network modifying stolen vehicles' identification numbers (VINs) to sell them through private sales, mainly in Ontario, was uncovered by the OPP organized crime enforcement bureau, provincial operations intelligence bureau and Équité Association.
Gary Laird, 31, of Georgina faces 15 charges: unauthorized possession of a prohibit weapon; possession of property obtained by crime x4; possession of loaded prohibited or restricted firearm; possession of a prohibited device or ammunition x2; possession break In instruments; possession of firearm contrary to prohibition order x4; careless storage of firearm; careless storage of firearm, weapon prohibit device. He has been released on undertaking.
John Aime Tsun Magan, 33, of Vaughan faces six charges: fraudulent concealment; conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment; conspiracy to traffic in property obtained by crime; trafficking in property obtained by crime; possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000; participate in activities of a criminal organization. He has been released on undertaking.
Among those arrested are employees of ServiceOntario who are accused of assisting with the illegitimate registration of stolen vehicles, police said.
The 28 arrested are charged with a total of 242 offences, including charges related to the Criminal Code, the Cannabis Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Upon arrest, five of the accused were held in custody. The remaining were released and are scheduled to appear at the Ontario Court of Justice in Peel Region and Saskatchewan Court in Saskatoon on various dates in July and August 2022, police said.
Three auto theft-based criminal organizations were involved in the thefts, including a criminal organization based in York Region responsible for "re-vinning" or altering VIN numbers on high-end stolen vehicles, fraudulently registering the stolen vehicles, then reselling or keeping them, police said.
As well, a criminal organization in Peel Region was altering VINs in vehicles stolen from Ontario, then fraudulently registering and reselling them, police said.
A third criminal organization based in Durham Region and Toronto was responsible for fraudulently registering stolen vehicles in Saskatchewan, transferring the documentation to Ontario, registering the vehicles in Ontario and reselling them to various individuals, including criminal networks, the OPP said.
The joint-forces investigative team included the OPP biker enforcement unit, OPP organized crime towing industry project, Durham Regional Police Service, Halton Regional Police Service, Peel Regional Police, Saskatoon Police Service and York Regional Police.
The Toronto Police Service, Ottawa Police Service, Windsor Police Service, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery also supported this investigation.
A total of 44 warrants were executed resulting in the seizure of: six firearms; 230 grams suspected fentanyl; 1,840 grams suspected cocaine; 77 kilograms cannabis; 150 grams suspected cannabis resin; 10 grams suspected psilocybin; $8,400 US; $160,000 CAD; two money counters; and two laser marking machines.
Police continue to identify and locate re-vinned vehicles associated to these criminal organizations and the investigation is ongoing.
"Members of the public should be cautious when purchasing a vehicle through a private sale. Buyers should ensure they retrieve as much information as possible on both the vehicle and the seller and perform due diligence in advance of providing any funds to the seller," police advised. "Buyers should be suspicious of a private seller who will not provide identification or who insists on receiving cash as payment."
"Citizens of Ontario deserve to have peace of mind when it comes to making a purchase as large as a vehicle. The criminal organizations involved in Project MYRA have tarnished that. We want to take this opportunity to remind everyone to be extremely cautious and use judgment and discretion when purchasing a used vehicle. If any part of the transaction, or anything leading up to the transaction seems suspicious, do not provide funds, contact law enforcement," said OPP Deputy Commissioner Chuck Cox, provincial commander, investigations and organized crime.