York Regional Police have charged 18 people with more than 170 offences following a raid on Tuesday that recovered 73 high-end, stolen vehicles worth $4.5 million.
Eight search warrants were executed across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and in Brossard, Quebec as part of a two-month investigation called Project Majestic — a collaboration between York, Peel and Toronto police forces.
Investigators say they identified a criminal syndicate in the GTA and the Montreal area responsible for stealing high-end vehicles from affluent neighbourhoods.
"They would generally scout cars in the early evening hours, returning in the early morning hours, they would force entry to the vehicle and then at that point they would be reprogramming the car's computer to recognize a brand new key fob," said Det. Scott Cresswell of York police's Auto Cargo Theft Unit.
Cresswell said the total time taken to steal one vehicle was under five minutes.
The project focused on the theft of Lexus, Toyota and Honda sport utility vehicles.
The vehicles were then either driven directly to the Port of Montreal or loaded into a sea container in Toronto and transported to Montreal by train, police say. They were then loaded onto ships and delivered to buyers in Africa or the United Arab Emirates.
"There's also a large number of vehicles that have been containerized and are currently at sea that we've targeted for inspection when they reach their port, and we expect to recover more stolen vehicles when that's done," Cresswell said.
To avoid being targeted, police are warning drivers to park their cars in their garage if possible, or buy an anti-theft device like a club or a locking device for the car's computer port.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call 1-866-876-5423, ext.6651, or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-tips.
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