York Regional Police say the dismantling of an auto theft ring and the recovery of $5 million in stolen vehicles, drugs and cash started with one simple warm-up car theft from a driveway in Vaughan late last year.

Det. Sgt. Paul LaSalle said that beginning in late 2015, several vehicles were stolen from driveways in Vaughan, as their owners kept them running for a few minutes in wintertime to warm up.

The thefts coincided with the establishment of Benefit Motors, an auto body shop on Hanlan Road in Vaughan, allegedly run by Balwinder Dhaliwal.

Investigators caught their first break in the case on March 3, 2016, when three suspects were arrested after they were observed allegedly committing warm-up thefts and bringing two stolen vehicles to Benefit Motors.

From there, police began to build a case against the auto shop, alleging it was part of an elaborate network used to conceal the identities of vehicles and resell or rent them out.

The group would allegedly steal vehicles through warm-up thefts or by breaking into homes to search for car keys.

Vehicles would then be brought to Benefit Motors or a number of other locations where their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) would be removed and replaced with counterfeit numbers belonging to American vehicles.

Locksmiths were hired to break into and reprogram car keys.

Thieves would also register counterfeit vehicle titles, and import documents.

LaSalle alleged the thieves would then sell some vehicles, either in Canada or abroad, while others were registered to bogus shell companies and used as rental cars.

“This group provided vehicles to other criminals so they could be used to commit crimes,” LaSalle said.

Some cars were used to transport heroin and cocaine, while others were simply offered to known criminals as a “cheap ride.”

LaSalle said that a total of 60 vehicles were stolen by the group.

But police say the criminal organization didn’t stop at car theft. Investigators revealed a plot by the accused to kidnap a person in Vaughan.

The accused allegedly planned to impersonate police officers and incapacitate their target with the use of a stun gun. The plot was never carried out.

LaSalle said the group was also linked to the theft of an entire tractor-trailer load of Nutella.

As part of the investigation, a compact combat shotgun and a semiautomatic assault rifle chambered for 9mm ammunition was also seized.

Also seized was $200,000 in cash, and $1.4 million in other goods including car parts, alcohol and the trailer-load of Nutella.

An investigation dubbed Project Cyclone that targeted the ring resulted in the arrest of 23 people, who now face a combined 137 charges.

Some members of the group are still at large, investigators said.

LaSalle said the most expensive vehicle recovered was a $340,000 Lamborghini Huracan.

“The owner was very happy to get it back,” LaSalle said.

LaSalle said Dhaliwal, the alleged ringleader of the operation, is previously known to police.

His reputation as a stolen car chop shop operator is so prolific he was once chronicled in the Canadian real-crime series Masterminds.

In it, he is dubbed, the “king” of car thieves.

Also charged in the alleged operation is his wife, Kuljit Dhaliwal and his son, Balkevinjit Dhaliwal.