Four alleged organized criminal organizations that operated as rival tow truck companies involved in a violent battle for territory in the Toronto area have been dismantled, police said Tuesday.
York regional police said the alleged crimes involved real collisions with jacked-up fees to drivers, staged collisions and extensive insurance fraud.
The turf war on two lucrative highways has led to murders, attempted murders, assaults, arsons and property damage, said Supt. Mike Slack of the force's organized crime and intelligence services.
"Organized crime begins with an opportunity to make money and a level of greed that leads to criminality and violence," Slack said in a video statement.
"The towing industry and its lack of regulations have bred exactly that environment."
York police worked with their Toronto counterparts, Ontario Provincial Police and the Canada Revenue Agency on the investigation, dubbed Project Platinum, that began in February.
After raids and the execution of numerous search warrants, police arrested 20 people who collectively face dozens of counts, including criminal organization related charges, drug-trafficking charges and firearm offences among others.
During the raids, police seized 40 guns, including handguns, shotguns, rifles and a machine gun. Police also seized five kilograms of the deadly opioid fentanyl, 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, 1.25 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and 1.5 kilograms of cannabis.
Police also seized more than $500,000 cash.
The investigative team also worked with the force's homicide squad that laid murder charges in March against two men with ties to the towing industry for the death of a man who worked in the same industry.
Slack said the alleged criminal organizations are relatively new and have earned millions of dollars in illicit income.
"And when these profits were not enough, they staged collisions using drivers they recruited — they deliberately caused collisions in roadways and parking lots across the GTA," Slack said.
Police allege Paramount Towing along with other towing companies have been defrauding insurance companies with vehicles involved in collisions and staged collisions.
Slack said the companies would grossly inflate towing bills, move cars from lot to lot to increase storage fees, inflate repair bills and involve physiotherapists, much of it in an effort to defraud insurance companies.
Body shops and car rental companies were in on the schemes, Slack said, and would receive "profitable cuts for themselves."
Insurance companies grew wise to the alleged frauds, Slack said, which then hired Carr Law, a firm in Vaughan, Ont., to investigate.
"It too became the target of violence, threats and extortion," Slack said.
Last fall an employee was threatened by an armed man and shortly thereafter someone fired bullets into the firm's office, police said.
Slack said investigators also found a cache of computer records that will aid in the prosecution of those charged.
He alleges Paramount Towing, which is owned and operated by Alexander Vinogradsky, controlled a vast territory that included Highways 401, 404 and 400.
Slack said police have made recommendations to the province to implement regulations in the towing industry, including contract towing.
"York regional police has yearly contracts that we sign that we identify trucks we can use at our collisions," he said. "We do think that has a great effect and something we recommend in all jurisdictions."