Toronto police charge 11, including an officer, say tow trucks have been using encrypted radios
Investigators say the drivers used radios to learn about collisions before competitors
Toronto police have laid further charges against an officer who allegedly took part in a scheme to provide encrypted police radios to tow truck drivers.
A total of 11 people are facing more than 50 charges as a result of the investigation, which has been underway since August 2019.
The accused Toronto police officer, Const. Ronald Joseph, is facing a series of charges including fraud and trafficking of property obtained by crime. Police announced last week that Joseph was facing charges of breach of trust and fraud over $5,000.
Investigators say the criminal operation put encrypted police scanners in the hands of "several" tow truck drivers working for multiple companies around Toronto.
"They used the radio's encrypted transmissions to learn about and arrive at traffic collisions before other tow truck drivers for financial gain," said police in a news release.
There are further allegations that calls made over the encrypted channels were broadcast to other tow truck drivers, who paid a monthly fee for access to the information.
During a news conference on Monday, Domenic Sinopoli, superintendent of the force's Professional Standards Unit, said Joseph played a significant role in multiple aspects of the criminal operation.
Sinopoli said Joseph allegedly stole one of the radios used by the drivers and accepted payment in exchange for information about collisions. Joseph is said to have made a clone of the stolen radio, which he then put back into police service.
"What this illustrates is that the tow operator had a genuine TPS radio in his possession, while our officers were using a cloned version," Sinipoli said.
Joseph is also alleged to have operated a rental company from which he rented two tow trucks to drivers who took part in the scheme. Joseph received "kickbacks" when his vehicles were used and benefited from referrals for the company, Sinopoli said.
Accused allegedly had ties to 3 towing companies
Sources tell CBC News that the rental company was called Renters Everything, it was a numbered company and it was located on 59 Crockford Blvd., near Warden Avenue and Lawrence Avenue East. It had 31 cars registered at one point.
Joseph is alleged to have ties to three towing companies, Maximum Towing, Nationwide and King's Highway.
The encrypted radios enabled the participants to be first on the collision scenes to get tows and they shared insider information on police radios, which were able to scan the entire city, sources said.
The radios also enabled them to know where police officers were so they could avoid detection.
"It's far too easy to commit insurance fraud due to the lack of checks and balances in the towing business for insurance companies," one senior officer said.
The encrypted radios were especially useful during the early COVID-19 pandemic period when traffic volumes and crashes plummeted dramatically, because they helped get tow truck drivers to the few crashes that were happening.
"These were desperate times for tow truck drivers because the pickings were slimmer during COVID-19," one senior officer said.
The shortage of accidents and tows made the encrypted radio that much more valuable in the last few months.
Police have seized 3 radios, 6 tow trucks, 1 loaded gun
Investigators from the force's Professional Standards Unit executed search warrants and made arrests over the last two months.
They have so far seized three radios, various other radio parts, six tow trucks and one loaded gun.
The investigation is the third major investigation into tow truck driving corruption and violence in the GTA. The other two were Project Platinum in York Region in May and Project Kraken in Toronto's east end in 2019.
None of the accused were involved in the other two projects.
Sources say each of the various participants accused in the criminal organization allegedly played different roles and brought their own expertise and skill set to the criminal organization.
Tow trucking industry faces allegations of violence for years
The Greater Toronto Area's tow truck industry has become a frequent target of police investigations over the past several years, with allegations of rampant violence and arson among drivers and companies.
In late May, police in York region announced multiple arrests due to an alleged turf war between companies.
York police say at least four homicides and 30 arsons over the past three years can be traced to organized crime groups operating within the industry.