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The Globe and Mail

High-end cars recovered as Toronto Police crack theft ring

Chief Bill Blair says thieves broke into homes to take car keys.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

An investigation into the thefts of high-end cars that began during December's ice storm resulted in Toronto Police retrieving an estimated $2.3-million in stolen vehicles this week.

Early Thursday morning, 23 cars were recovered that police believe were stolen by a criminal organization that was attempting to ship them out of the country and sell them overseas.

Nine criminal search warrants were executed across the Greater Toronto Area Thursday, leading to eight arrests.

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On Friday, investigators told the media that at around 2 a.m., a ninth man, who police believe to be the final member of the organized crime ring, had turned himself in.

The cars, as well as jewellery, electronics and other items, were stolen through a series of break-ins in affluent neighbourhoods across the city, police said at a news conference Thursday.

"There is a criminal enterprise that has been developing [and targeting] high-end vehicles, and they are trying to ship those vehicles out of the country, [specifically] to Eastern Europe and other parts of the world where those vehicles are sold to make a profit," Police Chief Bill Blair said, adding that the operation had been very sophisticated and, until this morning, very successful.

According to Superintendent Scott Gilbert, the investigation, dubbed Project Yellowbird, began after a yellow Porsche and its accompanying car keys were stolen from a home during the ice storm.

Upon investigating a number of similar thefts, police say, they discovered that the thieves were stealing the keys to the vehicles in an attempt to stop the technology inside the keys from pinpointing the stolen vehicle's location.

"With the advent of new, mobilized technology for high-end vehicles, what we have seen is a new crime emerge," Chief Blair said. "A crime where criminal organizations and criminal gangs are involved in breaking into people's houses in order to obtain the keys for those vehicles so that they might be stolen."

According to Det. David Zajac, the criminals have been known to police for a decade and have been arrested in the past.

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Police estimate that the combined value of the recovered vehicles and stolen property could exceed $5-million.

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