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'Early on, intelligence led our investigators to believe that members of the Chester Le gang and their associates were involved in numerous violent incidents and activities throughout the past four years,' Toronto Police Deputy Chief James Ramer said at a news conference on Friday.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

A guns and gangs investigation has exposed a violent turf war among tow-truck drivers across the Greater Toronto Area, police said on Friday.

More than 70 people have been charged under Project Kraken, a months-long, multijurisdictional investigation led by the Toronto Police Service into firearms and drug trafficking connected to what officers called the Chester Le gang, and its associates. Police said some of the accused have ties to traditional organized crime. Chester Le is a neighbourhood in the city’s east end.

“Early on, intelligence led our investigators to believe that members of the Chester Le gang and their associates were involved in numerous violent incidents and activities throughout the past four years,” Toronto Police Deputy Chief James Ramer said at a news conference on Friday. “These offences included attempted murders, firearms occurrences … drug trafficking, numerous robberies, and are believed to [also include] several murders.”

Officers seized more than $350,000 worth of drugs, including more than a kilogram each of cocaine and fentanyl, along with $92,000 in cash.

A total of 23 firearms were also seized. Among those, Deputy Chief Ramer said, were guns “seized from tow-truck operators who had armed themselves and were prepared to shoot other tow-truck operators over an ongoing battle over territory.”

This turf war is occurring across the GTA, police said, but seems to be most concentrated in central-east Toronto.

Seven tow-truck drivers were charged in Project Kraken, Superintendent Steve Watts said. Although investigators did not provide specifics about the alleged crimes, they did note that charges were laid in connection with two armed robberies earlier this year in which tow trucks were driven through the front of jewellery stores.

At least one tow-truck driver has been killed in Toronto this year.

Lawrence Gannon, 28, was shot in the driveway of a home near Ivy Green Crescent and Merkley Square in east Toronto in April. The case remains unsolved.

Although major projects by the guns and gangs unit typically focus on a specific group or neighbourhood, Project Kraken explored a broader network of criminal activity – with drug trafficking alleged to extend as far as Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Peterborough, Ont.

A prominent last name stood out on the list of those charged. Cosimo Commisso, 74, is accused, along with relatives, of conspiracy to commit municipal corruption in relation to what OPP Acting Chief Superintendent Karl Thomas described as an attempt to influence a decision on an approved use for a commercial property in relation to a cannabis facility.

Mr. Commisso has long been reputed to be a mafia leader in the Toronto area, according to court documents previously filed by law enforcement. On Friday, his lawyer, Peter Brauti, said his client “denies any wrongdoing, and denies any suggestion that there is a Commisso crime family actively engaged in criminality.

“Unfortunately, charging Mr. Commisso brings a certain amount of notoriety to these files,” Mr. Brauti said. “He has become a successful business operator over the last 20 years.”

Asked about what this project reveals about the fluidity between traditional organized crime and street gangs, Supt. Thomas said it is important to remember that the goal of all of these groups is to make money.

“If they have to work together to make that profit, they do,” he said. “And I think we see a lot more of that now across the country.”

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