|Some of the stolen vehicles|
Toronto Police have laid 640 charges after an investigation into a vehicle-theft ring alleged to have stolen 500 luxury SUVs, investigators said in a conference Friday. About 175 officers were part of 36 simultaneous raids Thursday that seized an estimated 200 vehicles, 179 of them already in shipping containers to be sent to Nigeria and Ghana.
The total value of vehicles stolen is estimated at $30 million. Eighteen people have been charged.
Investigators believe the SUVs stolen from the GTA were valued at about $60,000 to $80,000 each, but were being sold for half that price in African countries.
The Toronto Star reports that,Police allege the group's two ringleaders were Joseph Mensah, 63 whose charges include 73 counts of conspiracy and Ehimen Ojemolon, 28, both of whom have previous convictions for similar thefts.
Members of the group are accused of photographing Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) cards and key codes, and then selling them to criminal organizations for $200 each. The group then allegedly received help from an employee at a Service Ontario in Durham Region. Yashiba Minott, 35, is alleged to have provided the group with the addresses of newly registered cars via a search of the government VIN database.
Police believe the group stole the vehicles through a process of key cutting. Key codes would be taken to a locksmith, alleged to be 64-year-old Michael Lemesurier, who has also been charged.
The group's alleged thefts account for 10 to 15 per cent of the total number of cars stolen in Toronto. According to investigators, many residents had more than one vehicle stolen.