Toronto·CBC Investigates

5 Toronto police officers suspended as tow truck corruption probe widens

At least five Toronto police officers have been suspended with pay as the service's internal investigators unit probes their possible ties to corruption in the GTA towing industry, CBC News has learned.

Toronto police confirm 'very active' professional standards investigation underway

Toronto police confirmed five officers have been suspended while the force probes their possible links to corruption in the local towing industry. (The Canadian Press)

At least five Toronto police officers have been suspended with pay as the service's internal investigators unit probes their possible ties to corruption in the GTA towing industry, CBC News has learned.

The officers, from several different police divisions, were suspended late last month. Until now, those suspensions were shielded from public view. 

The officers have not been charged with wrongdoing — either criminally or under the Police Services Act — at this time.

"I will only confirm that this is a very active professional standards investigation," said Toronto police spokesperson Meghan Gray in an email to CBC Toronto.

"If additional criminal charges are laid, an update will be provided."

For more than two years a turf war has plagued part of the region's towing industry. That escalating violence has seen three tow truck operators shot to death, others wounded and at least 30 tow trucks torched. A joint police investigation dubbed Project Platinum, which resulted in a number of arrests and the expectation that more will follow, found several organized crime groups battling for control of the GTA towing industry.

Now, there are more questions about the role police officers may have played.

GTA police have investigated a number of arsons and suspicious fires connected to the towing industry in recent years, including at one North York facility, pictured, which was hit twice in the span of weeks. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)
 

Two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation say the Toronto officers were suspended after Const. Ronald Joseph was charged last month with theft and breach of trust. Joseph is accused of stealing an encrypted police radio and providing it to tow truck drivers. Joseph's arrest was first reported by the Toronto Star. 

At the time, Supt. Domenic Sinopoli said the tow operators used the police radio to find out about crashes so they could reach the scene first and scoop up business.

Sinopoli also said Joseph himself owned two tow trucks as well as a car rental business in Scarborough.

"The officer would receive monetary compensation for the tow trucks, he would receive kickbacks for the tips he provided and he would receive referrals to his car rental agency," Sinopoli alleged.

Sinopoli also said his investigators are looking into the theft of another police radio from 14 Division, in Toronto's west end.

As part of the ongoing professional standards investigation, officers are poring through evidence seized after they executed 11 search warrants. The officers also retrieved phone records and the contents of several electronic devices.

None of the suspended officers' homes have been searched, sources told CBC News, adding the five were suspended to protect the integrity of the current probe. 

A recent timeline of the GTA's tow truck trouble

There are multiple ongoing police investigations into the tow truck industry and there have already been dozens of arrests. 

York Regional Police have arrested more than 30 people, alleging four organized crime rings are vying for larger pieces of the lucrative towing and body shop industry. 

While investigators are probing homicides and arsons, they are also looking into allegations that the groups staged accidents and paid physiotherapists kickbacks to exaggerate personal injury claims.

One law firm hired by insurance companies to probe some of these accidents was torched and is now out of business. York police have laid arson charges in connection with the investigation.

Here's a look at some of the recent incidents from the past few months:

In May, York, Toronto and the Ontario Provincial Police, along with the Canada Revenue Agency, announced arrests made as part of their joint investigation dubbed Project Platinum. The investigation was launched in response to killings, attempted murders, assaults, arsons, threats and property damage connected to the GTA's towing industry. That investigation led to multiple arrests.

In late June, the province launched a task force to look at how to better regulate the industry. Premier Doug Ford said he was alarmed by the recent violence, and vowed the task force will help make the industry safer. The task force is looking at introducing province wide regulations.

As it stands only a handful of municipalities have bylaws outlining who can tow vehicles and how much tow operators can charge. In many jurisdictions tow operators don't need a licence to operate.

As of July, arrests linked to the towing industry continue. York Regional Police charged two more men in connection with one homicide investigation. 

However, the trouble continues as well, with one North York parking lot being set ablaze twice in what police are investigating as potential arsons.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Lancaster

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

John Lancaster is a senior reporter with CBC News focusing on investigative and enterprise journalism. His stories have taken him across Canada, the US and the Caribbean. His reports have appeared on CBC Toronto, The National, CBC's Marketplace, The Fifth Estate-and of course CBC online and radio. Drop him a line anytime at john.lancaster@cbc.ca.

With files from Sam Pazzano

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