Project Big Rig: 15 people arrested in GTA-wide commercial auto theft investigation

Peel police have arrested 15 people following an investigation into an auto theft ring that was allegedly stealing fully loaded commercial vehicles and then selling their cargo to unwitting buyers.

Police say the investigation, dubbed “Project Big Rig,” began in March, and was a joint-forces operation between Peel Regional Police, York Regional Police, the Toronto Police Service, Halton Regional Police and Ontario Provincial Police.

“As a result of this investigation, six locations were targeted within the GTA and warrants were executed,” said Det. Mark Haywood from the Peel police commercial and auto crime unit during a news conference in Mississauga Wednesday morning.

“Through the hard work of the investigative team, I’m pleased to share that the investigation resulted in the recovery of 28 containers of stolen cargo valued at $6.99 million. An additional 28 stolen tractors and trailers valued at $2.25 million were recovered. Total value of recovery: $9.24 million.”

Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Nick Milinovich also spoke at Wednesday’s news conference. He said that as one of the country’s largest transportation hubs, Peel Region is often the target of organized commercial auto and cargo theft.

“With five major highways that run through our region, approximately $1.8 billion of goods passes through our region every day, and often we are seeing that the proceeds of cargo theft and auto theft are used to fuel and fund organized crime,” he said.

“This often involves drugs and guns that are then directed towards our communities. The recovered cargo and vehicles through this investigation have removed millions of dollars out of the hands of organized crime.”

Police say the individuals arrested as a result of Project Big Rig have been charged with offences ranging from possession of property obtained by crime, motor vehicle theft, and tracking stolen goods.

For a full list of the suspects arrested in connection with the investigation, click here.

Haywood said the crime ring wasn’t targeting any specific type of commercial vehicle, and a range of cargo was stolen.

“The 28 loads were all varied in shape and size and value as well. There was vehicles, snowmobiles. ATVs, right down to food goods, but it was a random selection of products they were stealing,” he said.

“There was a specific modus operandi they were using where they were entering a lot of facilities through the fence. They would cut the fence, go in, steal the product – steal a truck usually – and drive out the fence.”

Haywood added that the cargo was then being resold, often to second parties unaware that they were purchasing stolen goods.

He also said going forward, more joint-force operations like Project Big Rig will be necessary to combat this type of organized crime, which almost always operates across jurisdictional lines.

“We constantly work with our partners,” Haywood said. “It’s not a problem that we can arrest our way out of. We certainly need to continue the investigations and these joint force investigations are really the only way that we can combat a lot of these thefts.” 

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