Eight people have been arrested and a ninth is being sought in connection with an alleged auto-theft ring that sought out high-end vehicles in Toronto so they could be exported for sale outside of the country.
At a news conference on Thursday, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said a new crime has been emerging, as a result of a shift to immobilizer technology in cars and other vehicles.
Blair said it's a crime "where criminal organizations and criminal gangs are involved in breaking into people’s houses in order to obtain the keys for those vehicles so that they might be stolen."
And while most cars stolen in Toronto are quickly recovered, Blair said police have spent months probing the activities of one "very sophisticated" group involved in these crimes.
"There is a criminal enterprise that has been involved in the theft of very high-end vehicles and the transshipment of those vehicles out of the country, principally to eastern Europe and other parts of the world, where those vehicles are sold for extraordinary profit," he said.
The police operation known as Project Yellowbird culminated in a series of raids on Thursday morning, as warrants were executed in the Greater Toronto Area and elsewhere.
Homes, a business, public storage lockers and a cargo container were searched.
Police have recovered 23 stolen vehicles, which Blair said are worth an estimated $2.3 million as a whole. Bentleys, Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes are among the recovered vehicles.
Other valuables including jewelry, designer clothing and handbags, have also been recovered.
Porsche theft spurred probe
Police say Project Yellowbird started with an investigation into the theft of a yellow Porsche Carrera that occurred during the devastating ice storm that struck the city last December.
The operation would eventually involve officers in York, Halton, Peel and Niagara regions.
"Through our work with our partners, we identified a group that had been victimizing, we allege, residents of Toronto for an extended period of time," Supt. Scott Gilbert told reporters at the news conference.
According to Gilbert, the suspects involved in the alleged theft ring were typically operating "during daylight hours," taking steps to be inconspicuous in the neighbourhoods where they targeted vehicles.
"The standard break-and-enter that we’ve been dealing with has been two or three individuals pulling up into one of our residential areas, driving a high-end vehicle themselves," Gilbert said.
"So they blend into Forest Hill, Rosedale, wherever they happened to be…while they were there, obviously they would gain entry to the residence, steal what they could and in particular, if they could, they would remove the vehicles."
Gilbert said four of the vehicles that have been recovered were located in Europe. Those included the initial Porsche that spurred the investigation. They are currently being shipped back to Canada.
Police say they will provide details on the specific charges laid on Friday, as well as more information on the stolen property and vehicles.