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19 arrested for thefts

Some face extradition after GTA-wide investigation

Several people arrested in a recent GTA-wide distraction theft investigation face potential deportation once court proceedings wrap up.

Police from York, Toronto, Durham and Orangeville recovered over $100,000 in stolen property, arrested 19 people and laid dozens of charges in connection with more than 100 distraction thefts that plagued Vaughan and Richmond Hill last year.

“A lot of (the arrested individuals) were here illegally or falsely identified themselves to gain entry into Canada,” York Detective Derek Wheeler said Tuesday.

During the investigation, officers executed several search warrants leading to the recovery of brand name clothing, perfume, electronics, VISA gift certificates and jewellery. Over $20,000 in cash was seized and three falsely registered vehicles were impounded.

The majority of the clothing taken during the alleged distraction thefts was sent to South America, Wheeler said.

“When it comes to cameras and laptops, there are connections within their community here that would take those from them, buy them from them, and then they would come back onto the black market through other means,” he said.

Distraction thefts usually involve two or three people working together to exploit any opportunity to grab something of value, Wheeler said. They often occur in hotel eateries, grocery stores, parking lots or near ATMs, he said.

“The Mustard Lady, for lack of a better term, . . . was one of the people that we arrested up in Orangeville,” he said. “They’d stand behind you and watch you remove a lot of cash (from an ATM) and splash some mustard or ketchup on you and say, ‘Oh no, look what happened to you.’ ”

As they try to help, “someone else is in your pocket or in your purse”, Wheeler said.

Thieves were very good, detective says

“They’re very good,” he added. “They are very good, very fast.”

Several jurisdictions across the GTA have suffered similar distraction thefts, Wheeler noted.

“We spent a lot of time liaising with other services, providing them information and actually assisting them clean up a lot of their outstanding occurrences,” Wheeler said. “It’s been very fruitful.”

The 19 men and women arrested face several charges, including: 42 counts of possession of property obtained by crime, 30 counts of theft under $5,000, 12 counts of possession and use of stolen credit card, two counts of break and enter, possession of forged passport, and possession of marijuana.

Wheeler is looking for more victims and is asking anyone who thinks they may have fallen prey to call him at 1-866-876-5423 ext. 7277 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Vaughan Today
In print: January 30, 2009, page 1
Online: January 29, 2009 [link]