AURORA, Ont. – Police in the Toronto area have taken down a car theft ring that peddled luxury vehicles across the country and around the world.
They said 23 people have been arrested and $5 million in vehicles, weapons, drugs and cash has been recovered as a result, including a 2016 Lamborghini Huracan.
York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe says the organized criminal operation began with the theft of a car left running in a driveway, warming up the engine on a cold day, and grew into a complex multimillion-dollar operation.
But “warm-up thefts” remained a fixture of the ring, Const. Laura Nicolle said, and the investigation also involved residential break-ins where the alleged thieves would steal keys, then drive away with the vehicles.
“The criminals in this case were looking for wherever they could profit,” she said. “We also seized firearms, drugs and cash.”
She said the investigation started in March, when two vehicles went missing from the same driveway.
Nicolle said officers tracked the cars and followed the suspects to a garage, which was run by the alleged ringleader, 60-year-old Balwinder Dhaliwal of Mississauga, Ont., and his family.
From there, York Regional Police officers joined forces with Peel Regional Police and Toronto Police.
Together, police learned that the ring was effectively “cloning” cars, Nicolle said.
The accused allegedly removed vehicle identification numbers from the stolen cars, and replaced those VINs with those from cars that had been legally shipped overseas.
That way, she said, if police ran the VINs, the cars wouldn’t come up as stolen.
Jolliffe says hundreds of vehicles were allegedly stolen and sold around the world, and Nicolle said the cars ranged from “typical” vehicles like Hondas and Fords to the luxury 2016 Lamborghini Huracan and a 2015 Audi R8.
“The crimes are based on opportunities,” she said. “So really, we’re pushing the fact that you should never leave your vehicle in the driveway unattended.”
“It’s like, whatever your vehicle cost, leaving that amount of cash on your doorstep and hoping it’s still there when you come back.”
She noted that heroin, cocaine, two illegal guns and even a trailer-load of Nutella were also stolen.
She said many of the cars have been seized, and some have already been returned to their owners – including the Lamborghini.
Police say the investigation is ongoing and they expect to lay more charges in the future.
The 23 people arrested face 137 charges.