The outbreak of the thefts of cars stolen while running with the keys inside has been connected to organized crime, Calgary police said Thursday.
“In cold weather, vehicles left running with the keys inside is the number 1 way vehicles are being stolen in Calgary and we know that vehicles stolen in that manner are connected to this investigation,” Calgary Staff-Sgt. Graham Smiley said.
After a 22-month investigation, Calgary police laid charges in what they believe is an organized crime group responsible for trafficking stolen vehicles.
Police say the group “worked together in a sophisticated manner” to get cars from car thieves, strip and re-assign VINs, and then sell the vehicles to buyers in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
According to police, those vehicles were sold with documentation like bills of sale, registration and insurance documents, that matched the fraudulent VINs in an effort to conceal the vehicle’s original identity — at a steep discount.
“This criminal organization was trying to operate in such a way that some of those due diligence methods consumers might use would come across as legitimate,” Smiley said. “But what would not be legitimate is buying a new vehicle at $20,000 to $30,000 under market value.”
Police said some of the vehicles were also used in crimes like fraud, drug trafficking, break-and-enter, thefts and trafficking in stolen property.
Three people were arrested on Feb. 14 as a result of the investigation: Tyler Roger Scott, 34, Tami Lee Scott, 55 — both of Calgary — and Ikraam Elahi Chaudhary, 35, of Saskatoon. That trio will appear in court on March 18 to face organized crime-related charges among others.
“We feel that this particular situation does have a significant impact in that we’ve charged these investigations with organized crime,” said Smiley.
During the investigation, police seized:
- 39 vehicles worth $1.9 million
- A residence in Ogden police which believe was purchased with proceeds of crime
- 402 fentanyl pills
- 4.5 kilograms of marijuana
- 17 grams of cocaine
- 512 fraudulent VINs
- Other documents related to the registration and sale of stolen vehicles
Police said they executed eight search warrants in May 2018 at properties between Calgary and Saskatoon, including the recovery of five stolen vehicles at Modern Motors Ltd., an auto repair shop in Saskatoon, Sask.
Investigators also discovered a marijuana grow-op in the 28200-block of Township Road 224A, Rocky View County, police said.
A Canada-wide warrant has been issued for Sylvain Serge Lefevre, 36, in relation to the investigation.
Lefevre is described as five-foot-nine, 140 pounds, brown hair and brown eyes, with tattoos of the word “atticus” on his left forearm, a nautical star and “carpe diem” on his right wrist and a chain on his left ankle.
Police ask anyone with information about Lefevre to call 403-266-1234 or to contact Crime Stoppers.
Steps to avoid buying stolen vehicles
Businesses that accept used vehicles for trade should complete a “comprehensive check” on items they are acquiring from a customer, according to the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC). Extensive vehicle searches can dig up “red flags that could indicate a stolen or tampered vehicle.”
In a statement, AMVIC outlined a number of steps that consumers can take in order to spot “curbers,” which are people who may be selling “stolen, damaged, or odometer-tampered vehicles.”
Signs of a curber:
AMVIC said curbers could appear to be selling through a legitimate business or by private sale. The organization gave the following tips on how to identify someone who may be trying to make a shady deal:
- Curbers are often anxious to make a sale
- Consumers could find their phone number used on multiple ads for different vehicles — legitimate private sellers usually only have one vehicle for sale
- If you think you might be dealing with a curber, do a quick search on amvic.org and if you cannot find them, contact AMVIC to report a possible curber
Consumers protecting themselves:
Buying and selling used vehicles remains common, so AMVIC offered the following tips for those looking to protect themselves:
- Ensure the seller is the registered owner of the vehicle
- Ask questions
- When researching VIN, copy the VIN from the vehicle, not any other paperwork
- Look for scratches around the VIN or odometer, which could indicate tampering
- Purchase a vehicle history report such as a Carfax
- Insist on an independent inspection
- Check to see if the vehicle has been stolen by searching the VIN on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database for free
- Never give the seller personal or banking information
- Compare the VIN on door and dash to ensure they match
- Be prepared to walk away – there will be other vehicles