TORONTO – Toronto police say they have dealt a major blow to a West African criminal group called the “Black Axe” by arresting 18 people in connection to a major auto theft ring that targeted high-end vehicles in the Greater Toronto Area and shipping them overseas.
Police said the sophisticated operation involved car shipment employees in Ontario replicating vehicle identification numbers, acquiring key codes, and accessing personal ownership information through the Service Ontario database to locate newly purchased vehicles.
“The person working at the Service Ontario office in Durham Region was providing information on the new registered owner after being sold from dealership,” said Staff Inspector Mike Earl during a press conference Friday morning.
Police said thieves would then locate the vehicles and use forged keys to steal them and eventually ship them overseas to Nigeria and Ghana.
In total, police said more than 500 vehicles worth between $60,000 to $80,000 each were stolen from driveways of homes in high-end neighbourhoods in the GTA this year.
“The value of the vehicles stolen by this group amounts to a staggering $30 million,” said Acting Deputy Chief James Ramer.
Police said the investigation, nicknamed Project CBG, began in early 2015 after they noticed a rash of high-end vehicle thefts in the Toronto area.
It is estimated the thefts equaled to about 10 to 15 per cent of all stolen vehicles in Toronto in 2015.
Police said the arrests were made after authorities executed 36 search warrants on Thursday. Investigators say six individuals are still outstanding.
“As a result of Project CBG, this particular crime ring has been significantly degraded. We are not naive. History has taught us there will be others including fraud and property offences,” said Ramer.
Police said the 18 accused face a total of 640 criminal charges.