Alberta police have busted an international auto theft ring responsible for the theft of more than 100 high-end trucks, SUVs, and luxury sedans from Quebec motorists.
The ring was highly organized, with some people assigned to stealing particular makes of vehicles, others with manufacturing counterfeit vehicle identification papers, and others responsible for registrations and “legitimizing” the vehicles, said Det. Stewart Kirtio, with the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, or ALERT, which led the investigation.
The ring would steal vehicles in Quebec, then re-identify them using counterfeit vehicles' identification numbers.
The vehicles would then be registered by federally numbered corporations at registries in Alberta and other provinces using fraudulent bills of sale and new vehicle information statements cards.
The vehicles would be re-registered in Quebec and sold at steep discounts through a network of friends and associates.
"Driving down the road, a normal police officer is not going to know that's a stolen vehicle," Kirtio said.
But while a few of the buyers of the vehicles might be unwitting victims, most buyers would know the vehicles were stolen, he said.
Half of vehicles recovered
So far, police have recovered 53 of the stolen vehicles mainly in Quebec, but also in Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray, Kirtio said.
Seven of the vehicles were traced to Ghana in Africa, and two more were intercepted en route to Costa Rica.
The ring, which had ties to organized crime, ran a complex scheme that took investigators over a year to unravel, Kirtio said.
The sophisticated fraud began to unravel in November 2012 when a Quebec registry noticed some peculiarities involving vehicles registered in Alberta and Quebec and passed the concerns on to Service Alberta.
"They were able to determine that these vehicles have never been manufactured," Kirtio said.
Several Alberta and Quebec suspects have been identified, and investigators are in the process of recommending charges in consultation with crown prosecutors, he said.
Police estimate the value of the recovered vehicles exceeds $3 million.