York Regional Police say they have charged 20 people and laid hundreds of organized crime-related charges after an investigation into ongoing tow truck turf wars.
"The Greater Toronto Area has been the scene of violence between rival tow truck companies who have been fighting over financial profits from the towing of vehicles and, the most significant source of profit, the frauds following the initial tow," York Regional Police said in a news release.
"The competition for control of the towing market has resulted in murders, attempted murders, assaults, arsons, threats and property damage."
Police said in February that the investigation, dubbed Project Platinum, saw police forces across the region and the Canada Revenue Agency identify several organized crime groups working within the towing industry who used violence and property damage to gain control and territory within the industry.
According to police, the investigation revealed that Paramount Towing, owned by Alexander Vinogradsky, along with other rival towing groups, has allegedly been involved in defrauding insurance companies with vehicles involved in collisions and staged collisions.
"The tow companies partnered with auto repair shops, as well as car and truck rental companies, to carry out their frauds," police said.
Police said insurance companies hired lawyers and pursued legal action against numerous towing companies. Investigators also allege that Carr Law firm in Vaughan, Ont., hired by the insurance companies, became the target of violence, threats and extortion.
On April 30 and May 1, warrants were executed in Brantford and Hamilton, where five suspects were taken into custody and charged.
On May 20, York Regional Police, with help from the Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto Police Service, executed 21 search warrants at residences and businesses in Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Hamilton, Oakville, Toronto, Aurora and East Gwillimbury. Three suspects were arrested and charged.
Police have revealed that evidence seized in the search warrants includes:
11 tow trucks
16 handguns, 13 shotguns, nine rifles, one machine gun, one air pistol converted to .22-calibre pistol, one sawed-off shotgun and three high-capacity drum magazines
Thousands of rounds of ammunition of various calibres
Two conductive energy weapons and brass knuckles
Five kilograms of fentanyl, 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, 1.25 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and 1.5 kilograms of cannabis
More than $500,000
A full list released by police indicated 20 people were charged. The hundreds of charges laid include participating in a criminal organization, fraud, extortion, robbery, arson, trafficking numerous drugs including fentanyl, multiple firearm-related offences and first-degree murder.
"With the accused facing charges, and their assets seized, we expect the extreme level of violence we have seen in our community to diminish," Supt. Mike Slack, officer in charge of organized crime and intelligence services with York Regional Police, said.
"We are confident our efforts will play a significant role in returning peace and lawful order to the towing industry," Slack said.
Police said this is an ongoing investigation, and anyone with information is asked to call York Regional Police organized crime and intelligence services at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7818, or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.