Police charge 22 in rash of cellphone store robberies in Greater Toronto Area
9 robberies still unsolved, 1 of which includes violent incident in northwest Toronto
Toronto police say 22 males have been charged in connection with a rash of "take-over style" robberies at cellphone stores in the Greater Toronto Area.
The accused males, 11 adults and 11 teens, range in age from 15 to 25.
Police said they are also looking for two suspects in a "disturbing" February cellphone store robbery in northwest Toronto that turned violent. It is one of nine robberies still unsolved. In that incident, an employee and customer were assaulted. Police released a security camera footage of the robbery on Wednesday.
32 stores robbed from December to May in GTA
Insp. Lauren Pogue, spokesperson for Toronto police's hold up squad, told reporters 32 cell phone stores were robbed in Toronto, York, Peel and Halton regions and Hamilton from December 2018 to May 2019. Weapons used in the robberies include knives, a gun and a hammer.
Many of the stores were Freedom Mobile outlets. Some were robbed more than once.
In response, officers carried out a six-month investigation in which they executed 13 search warrants and 278 laid charges against the 22 male suspects.
"The initial suspects were known to each and communicated and recruited further males through the use of social media platforms, switching up their tactics, their clothing and the jurisdiction of their robberies in an attempt to evade police," Pogue said on Wednesday.
Toronto police have released this video of a violent cellphone store robbery that took place on Feb. 11, 2019.
"Smartphones are extremely valuable right now and there is a good market for these stolen phones," Pogue added.
The suspects have been charged in connection with 23 cellphone store robberies, two carjackings, a street robbery and seven thefts of vehicles. They were arrested between January 12 to 17. Some of the suspects had no previous contact with police.
In most cases, the suspects wanted iPhones.
In each of the robberies, Pogue said two to five males entered the stores and used weapons and verbal threats to control employees and customers. Occasionally, they restrained employees using zip ties. They allegedly ordered employees to fill large gym bags with cellular smartphones, and then fled the scenes in stolen vehicles.
At least two of the getaway vehicles were stolen through carjackings. Police have recovered seven vehicles stolen from Toronto, York and Halton regions, and Barrie.
Det.-Const. Bryan Magee of the hold up squad said the robberies are called "takeover style" because the thieves use force and threats to take over and control the situation.
The investigation, dubbed "Matrix Bandits," was led by the hold up squad and assisted by 31 and 32 division major crime units as well as York Regional Police's hold up unit, Peel Regional Police's central robbery unit and Halton Regional Police's robbery unit.
Shaw Communications corporate security also helped police.
As for Freedom Mobile, Pogue said it has implemented new security technology to fight crime and protect their businesses.
Employee, customer assaulted in February robbery
One of the nine robberies still under investigation occurred on Monday, Feb. 11 at 8:15 p.m., in the area of Lawrence Avenue West and Allen Road. An employee was helping an 83-year-old female customer at the time.
Police say the first suspect entered the store and began hitting the employee with an expandable baton. The second suspect then entered the store, forced the employee to the back and demanded cellphones. As the customer tried to leave, the first suspect hit her on the lower part of her body repeatedly, shoved her to the ground and dragged her by the arm to the back.
The employee's hands were bound with zip ties as the suspects filled a gym bag with merchandise.The customer was able to escape.
Both suspects, wanted for robbery and assault, are described as males, black, mid 20s, between 5'10" and 6'. One was wearing a distinct puffy jacket with a blue, white and red horizontal stripe, while the other was wearing a medium blue puffy jacket.
Pogue said the assaults in the robbery were "unprovoked" and "entirely unnecessary" especially because the victims were complying. The customer suffered bruising to her arms and legs.
She said this robbery has a higher level of violence than the others that were investigated.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-7350, or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).