Three men and a woman in Hamilton are facing a raft of charges in connection with a scheme where high-end cars and pickup trucks were stolen and smuggled for sale in Iraq.

Hamilton Police Det. Sgt. Andrea Torrie said that during “Project Seagull,” police and Canada Border Service agents watched several used car sales people for a period of four months.

During this time, investigators allegedly watched the ring steal 39 cars, usually from car rental agencies.

“Usually the suspects would provide fake documentation to rent a vehicle and then never return it,” Torrie said. “In other instances the suspects would rent a car, ‘clone’ its keys, return the car and then steal it with the cloned keys.”

On Dec. 5, Torrie said officers searched six businesses and three homes in the Hamilton area, including two hangars at the Stoney Creek Airport.

Inside, they allegedly found $1.5 million worth of vehicles, including at least one BMW X6, numerous pickup trucks and vehicles of lesser value, including a Honda CR-V and Honda Odyssey minivans.

They also found seven vehicles packed into shipping containers.

Torrie said they have evidence that all the vehicles were bound for Iraq.

She added their alleged activities possibly date back " several years."

“We’re hoping we’ve caused a major disruption of their activities at this point.”

She identified the four accused as Yehia al-Jbouri, Amer al-Ogaili, Zeyad al-Khafaji and Nahla Khayon.

The three men face numerous offences including conspiracy, trafficking in property obtained by crime, tampering with a vehicle identification number and fraudulent concealment, while Khayon faces a single possession of property obtained by crime offence.

Torrie said they are engaging in the civil forfeiture process to return the intact vehicles to their owners and convert other seized property in order to compensate victims.

Steve Kee of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said that nearly a billion dollars-worth of cars are stolen per year in Canada, with $250 million stolen in southern Ontario alone.

“Thieves are not picky. They’ll steal it from your driveway, they’ll steal it from the supermarket, they’ll even steal from dealerships and rental car companies.”