Police have arrested 20 people and laid hundreds of charges in connection with a long-simmering turf war for control of the Greater Toronto towing industry that they say has resulted in “murders, attempted murders, assaults and arsons.”

York Regional Police say that a joint-forces investigation, dubbed Project Platinum, was launched in February to probe some of the violence.

They say that investigators, in turn, identified “several organized crime groups” working within the towing industry who were fraudulently inflating costs and, in at least 10 cases, even “deliberately causing collisions” to increase profits.

They say that the groups netted millions of dollars in illicit profits but as the money increased so did the “demand for territory and with that the need to control that territory through violence.”

Police ultimately identified more than 150 different acts of violence that the groups are believed to be responsible for, though they say that many offences likely went unreported, meaning that the real number may be even higher.

“We allege that the competition for control of the tow market has resulted in murders, attempted murders, shootings, assaults, arsons, threats and property damage,” Superintendent Mike Slack said in a video announcing the arrests.

Slack said that police believe the truck companies collaborated with auto repair shops, physiotherapy clinics and car and truck rental companies to “grossly inflate” bills with each group getting a cut of the proceeds.

He said that insurance companies had in turn banded together to fight the fraud, at one point hiring Carr law firm in Vaughan “to act on false claims until it too became the targets of violence, threats and extortion.”

Slack said that as a result of the investigation police have laid hundreds of charges, including two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of tow truck driver Soheil Rafipour outside his Richmond Hill home in December, 2018 as well as charges of attempt to commit murder and conspiracy to commit murder in relation to an incident at the offices of Carr law firm.

He said that charges were also laid in connection with the orchestration of an arson on March 29 that resulted in the burning of three large transport trucks at a vehicle storage yard in Vaughan.

“We are in the process of dismantling four distinct criminal organizations through these arrests and those to come,” Slack said. “With the accused facing charges and their assets seized we expect the extreme level of violence we have seen in our community to diminish.”


Large cache of weapons seized

Some of the charges announced on Tuesday were laid back in March but many of them were laid on May 20 after police executed search warrants at 21 different locations in Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Hamilton, Oakville, Toronto, Aurora and East Gwillimbury.

During the execution of those search warrants police seized a large cache of weapons, including 16 handguns, 13 shotguns, nine rifles, one machine gun, one air pistol converted to a .22 calibre pistol, one sawed-off shotgun and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

They also seized five kilograms of fentanyl, 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, 1.25 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, 1.5 kilograms of cannabis and more than $500,000 in cash.

Slack said that he expects the arrested to result in a “diminishing level of violence” across the GTA in the “short term” but he warned that regulatory changes need to be made to the towing industry in order for there to be “a lasting effect.”

“Every aspect of this industry has an opportunity to make additional money, more than you normally would in payouts from insurance companies,” he said. “It starts with the tow, that inflated tow bill that is associated with that. Then there are inflated storage costs or moving vehicles around so that owners can’t find their vehicle and have to pay additional storage fees. Then there is the billing associated to damage, billing insurance companies for damage that did not occur or causing additional damage in the storage lot and billing that additional damage.”

Slack said that police are hopeful that there will be bail conditions placed on many of the accused parties that “will prevent them from continuing to do business,” though he conceded that it has been “difficult” to get the courts to impose those conditions.