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A complex and intricate insurance fraud scheme continues to be investigated by police north of Toronto, who claim that 65 people were involved in staging fake car collisions and filing false insurance claims worth more than $5 million.

York Regional Police’s major fraud unit alleged Thursday that nine separate crashes were staged in a three-kilometre grid around Vaughan, Ont., in 2009 and 2010.

Forty-three suspects have been arrested and police said 199 criminal charges have been filed, including conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, fraud and obstruction of justice.

Twenty-two other arrest warrants have been issued as part of the investigation, police said.

Investigators allege that the suspects would purchase a crashed vehicle and, with the help of numerous accomplices, stage crash scenes and report the incidents to police.

Police allege the auto body shops and massage clinics where those insurance claims were supposedly processed participated in the fraud and remain under investigation.

“People were recruited by an orchestrator and promised money in return for filing false accident benefit insurance claims. They were required to play a role to the insurance company, either driver or passenger,” said lead investigator Det. Const. Kim Tanczos.

Tanczos said the vehicles used were all at least 10 years old, had pre-existing damage and were in poor mechanical condition. Some were inoperable at the time of the collision, she said.

Those reporting the collisions would tell police there were no passengers inside the vehicle, and then later call insurance companies to add on further claimants. In one case, a person claiming to have been driving a five-seat vehicle told the insurance company he was with seven passengers at the time of the accident.

Tanczos said the injuries reported to insurance companies were all soft tissue damage — never anything bruised, broken or otherwise visible.

The suspects would then claim to visit chiropractic clinics and receive massages and physiotherapy. In most cases, those services were never actually provided, Tanczos said, and insurance claims would allegedly be filed by clinics misusing the names of medical professionals.

“There were striking commonalities between the businesses involved,” Tanczos said.

York police launched Project Sideswipe in March, after the Insurance Bureau of Canada became suspicious of the incidents. Sixty-five drivers and passengers involved in nine separate collisions have been investigated as part of Project Sideswipe.

The staged collisions all occurred in an area north of Highway 407 in the area of Weston Road between July 2, 2009, and March 16, 2010 in an area bordered by Major Mackenzie Drive to the north, Highway 7 to the south, and Langstaff Road and Dufferin Street to the west and east.

Police allege that those responsible for the false claims have defrauded more than $1 million from insurance companies. Had the scheme not been discovered, insurance companies would have been hit for well over $5 million.

Insurers battle fraud in Ontario

According to the Insurance Board of Ontario, claimants can collect up to $75,000 per crash. Such claims have resulted in insurance premium increases of 17 per cent annually and have made Ontario the most expensive place in North America to drive, Det. Sgt. Mike Elliot said on Thursday.

“Staged collisions are affecting our communities in ways many of us do not realize,” Elliot told reporters.

“Staged collisions have a high degree of complexity, are extremely time consuming and may take months to investigate.”

York police said they continue to search for people suspected of playing central roles in the scheme and are asking the public to come forward with information.

Arrest warrants have been issued for:

  • Shehryar Ahmad, 32, of Toronto
  • Mohamed Ali Hussien, 29 of Toronto
  • Christopher Savid Barco, 28, of Brampton
  • Kiril Kovtunenko, 26, of Richmond Hill
  • Lystra Modeste, 29, of Toronto
  • Patrick Muir, 27, or Toronto
  • Evadne Nelson-Thomas, 53, of Brampton
  • Abdi N Yusuf, 46, of Hamilton
  • Asif Khan, 56, of Brampton
  • Huma Baig, 46, of Mississauga
  • Kelly Smith, 33, of Toronto
  • Tiana Beckford, 21, of Brampton
  • Robin Bryan, 54, of Toronto
  • Fouzia Hassan, 44, of Toronto
  • Adnan Ahmed, 19, of Toronto
  • Lillian Pollard, 70, of Brampton
  • Jeremiah Lowe, 22, of Toronto
  • Nasra Nur, 26, of Toronto
  • Marie Rolands Berry, 65, of Ajax
  • Raha Kheyre, 29, of Toronto.