Greater Toronto Area (May 29, 2020) – The York police laid nearly 200 charges against 20 people in connection with an organized crime investigation regarding the escalated tow truck war in Ontario. The authorities identified several organized crime groups who have been fighting over financial profits from the towing of vehicles and the following insurance frauds. As a result of the so-called Project Platinum, the police seized firearms, ammunition, weapons, and drugs, which were linked to murders, assaults, arsons, threats, and property damage. The investigation is ongoing.
The York police scored a coup against organized crime groups involved in the tow truck industry in Ontario according to a press release. The investigators of the so-called Project Platinum laid nearly 200 charges in relation to fraud, violence, property damage, and drug trafficking against 20 people.
The Ontario tow truck war
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has been the scene of violence since a tow truck war over the control of the towing market in Ontario escalated to murders, shootings, assaults, arsons, threats, and property damage. The police said competing tow truck companies have been fighting over territory and financial profits from the towing of vehicles and the following frauds, which is considered as the most significant source of revenue.
In February of this year, the York police launched a joint-forces investigation, dubbed Project Platinum, with the OPP, the Toronto police, and the CRA. The ongoing investigation has identified several organized crime groups working within the towing industry.
‘Organized crime begins with an opportunity to make money and a level of greed that leads to criminality and violence,’ Superintendent Mike Slack with the York Regional Police said in a video released on May 26. ‘The towing industry and its lack of regulations have bred exactly that environment.’
‘It is about more than the tow fee’
The police explained that these criminal towing companies are participating in scams and schemes after the tow which involves rental cars, inflated repair work, insurance fraud, and physiotherapy claims. ‘Over time, unscrupulous companies and the people working for them have found ways to inflate costs and victimize consumers,’ Slack said and indicated that these frauds are more lucrative than the towing itself.
For this investigation, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) worked with law enforcement. The IBC pointed out that several towing companies have been involved in defrauding insurance companies, using vehicles involved in collisions and staged collisions. These towing companies partnered with auto repair shops, physiotherapy clinics, as well as car and truck rental companies, to carry out these frauds.
One of the towing companies involved is allegedly Paramount Towing, which is owned and operated by Alexander Vinogradsky, along with other rival towing groups. ‘Their fraudulent billing, fraudulent repairs, fraudulent physiotherapy claims have earned them millions in enlisted income and when these profits were not enough, they staged collisions using drivers they recruited, they deliberately caused collisions on roadways and on parking lots across the GTA.,’ illustrated Slack.
Body shops and individuals are getting profitable cuts for themselves conducting these frauds while their actions continue to victimize the community, according to Slack. To mitigate the costs of these frauds, the insurance companies took action and actively pursued legal action against various towing companies. The police said that one of the law firms, the insurance companies hired, became the target of violence, threats, and extortion.
‘Insurance fraud is a safety issue for consumers. Lives can be put at risk as a result of these criminal actions. Insurance fraud costs Canadians in added insurance premiums, and strains our already burdened health care, emergency services, and court systems,’ said Bryan Gast, IBC’s National Director of Investigative Services.
Nearly 200 charges against 20 suspects
On April 30, May 1 and May 20 the police executed multiple search warrants as a result of the investigation at residences and businesses in Brantford, Hilton, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Hamilton, Oakville, Toronto, Aurora, and East Gwillimbury.
They seized 11 tow trucks, 16 handguns, 13 shotguns, nine rifles, one machine gun, one air pistol converted to .22 calibre pistol, one sawed-off shotgun, and three high-capacity drum magazines, ammunition of various calibres, two conductive energy weapons, brass knuckles, drugs, and more than $500,000.
The police published a list of the 20 arrested suspects connected to the criminal activity in the towing industry. They laid nearly 200 charges against the suspects including fraud, participating in a criminal organization, extortion, robbery, arson, trafficking numerous drugs including fentanyl, multiple firearm-related offenses, attempted murder, and first-degree murder.
‘We are in the process of dismantling four distinct criminal organizations through these arrests and those to come,’ said Slack. Anyone with information related to the criminal activity within the towing industry is asked to contact the York Regional Police Organized Crime and Intelligence Services at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7818.
‘Know Your Tow’
IBC reminded the public that everybody, who has been in a collision, has the right to decide who can tow their vehicle and to what location (unless otherwise directed by police), a permission-to-tow form must be signed, and the towing company must provide an itemized invoice before receiving payment and towing the vehicle. Furthermore, everybody is entitled to a receipt for towing services rendered, and has the option to pay with a debit or credit card.
The Bureau also recommended, in case of an accident, to call the insurance representative as soon as possible to report the collision and receive recommendations for repair and car rental companies. Besides, people involved in an accident should decline offers to store their vehicles in a compound yard unless directed by their insurance representative to do so. Moreover, IBC advised not to sign a blank contract or take referrals from towing companies.