Five Toronto men and one from the Niagara Region were charged in connection to the theft of 100 stolen vehicles, many of which ended up back on the road after passing fraudulent structural safety inspections.
Police allege the suspects would steal vehicles and register them with vehicle identification numbers taken from cars and trucks that had been written off and purchased as salvaged parts.
Police said the suspects would give the vehicles fraudulent insurance and structural certificates before putting them up for sale at used car shops.
The investigation, titled Project Enterprise, began in 2009 and grew in scope to include the Ontario Provincial Police, Niagara Regional Police and the Ministry of Transportation’s enforcement unit.
“They were taking stolen vehicles,” Sgt. Tim Burrows alleged on Thursday. “They were taking vehicles that had been written off in collisions and assembling the parts using the documentation of one to cover up the tracks and put these vehicles back on the road.
“Members of the public are buying these vehicles, and they are not ‘too good to be true’ prices. They are situations where you believe you are getting a valid vehicle. Before you purchase anything of this nature from a used vehicle supplier of any time, it is an excellent idea … to have it inspected.”
The Ontario Motor Vehicle Council is available to assist anyone who believes they may be a victim of such a crime, Burrows said.
Auto theft costs Canadians an estimated $1 billion every year, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. An average of 420 vehicles is stolen across the country every day.
Police say several search warrants were executed on a Niagara Region auto body shop named Auto Enterprise in June.
Niagara police recovered more than 60 stolen chopped vehicles and more than 200 high-end vehicles that had been surgically stripped of their components.
George Tsigirlash, 42, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, was charged with two counts of possession of stolen property over $5,000 and two counts of fraud over $5,000.
On Wednesday, Tsigirlash was charged with more offences, including 10 counts of possession of stolen property over $5,000, three counts of fraud over $5,000 and breach of recognizance.
Toronto police have charged another five men in connection to the investigation, many of them owners and operators of local body shops.
John Keen, 51, owner of Downtown Collision, was charged with 52 counts of fraud under $5,000 and 52 counts of uttering forged documents.
Giovanni Bellisario, 53, of Toronto, was charged with 125 counts of fraud under $5,000 and 125 counts of uttering forged documents.
Osvaldo Savia, 57, the operator of Car Care Centre, was charged with 73 counts of fraud under $5,000 and 73 counts of uttering forged documents.
David De Oliveira, 33, the owner of Prestige Collision, was charged with property obtained by crime over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and two counts of uttering forged documents.
Gabor Toth, 39, of Toronto, was charged with seven counts of property obtained by crime and three of counts of uttering forged documents.
All five Toronto men were scheduled to appear in court of Thursday.