Murder, Arson, and Hundreds of Charges: Cops Wade Into Canuck Towing War

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

In the millimetre-deep world of online sociopolitical commentary, the United States is portrayed as a lawless land of heartless thugs and capitalist greed. Its neighbor to the north, on the other hand, is often pictured as a doe-eyed innocent whose heart is too inherently pure for any wrongdoing. A superficial take, for sure, and certainly one that didn’t take Ontario’s towing industry into account.

North of Lake Erie and Ontario, around the small, idyllic hamlet of Toronto, police just laid nearly 200 charges against tow truck operators who they say waged a violent, multi-year war against each other. What started out as simple rivalry between tow companies devolved into a full-scale conflict that boasted every ingredient of organized crime: guns, drugs, money, intimidation, arson, and murder.

Dozens more arrests are expected.

Project Platinum, a joint effort of the York police, Ontario Provincial Police, Toronto police, and the Canada Revenue Agency, yielded 19 arrests on Tuesday, with perhaps 30 more expected in the days to come.

The raids and arrests targeted four criminal tow cartels in the Greater Toronto Area, authorities say. In addition to very unsavory business practices, the companies allegedly pulled out all the stops to punish rivals and keep the law at bay. They also grabbed cash wherever they could find it, diversifying their operations with drug trafficking, elaborate frauds involving staged accidents, and good old-fashioned robbery.

Other robberies looked good on paper.

“Over time, unscrupulous companies and the people working for them have found ways to inflate costs, and victimize consumers.” said Insp. Mike Slack, head of Organized Crime and Intelligence Services with York police. The four cartels partnered with willing repair shops and rental agencies to make a bigger buck off unsuspecting victims, investigators allege.

From the National Post:

Along with 11 tow trucks, officers seized a machine gun, 16 handguns, 12 shotguns, nine rifles, a sawn-off shotgun and three high-capacity drum magazines; thousands of rounds of ammunition; 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.

The competition for hooking up a vehicle after a collision is about far more than the tow fee, Slack said.

Police allege the real money is in scams and schemes after the tow — from rental cars, inflated repair work, insurance fraud and physiotherapy claims. Damage to cars was enhanced once in the shops or made up entirely. Accidents were even staged, he said.

Among those arrested was Alexander Vinogradsky of Vaughan, Ontario, the owner/operator of Paramount Towing, who stands charged with fraud, gangsterism, and participating in a criminal organization. Other suspects arrested are said to be linked to the towing-related Christmas Eve 2018 murder of Soheil Rafipour.

When one Vaughan law firm started hitting back at the companies, violence erupted. After having some success in combating unscrupulous towing companies, the firm’s office was set ablaze early last year. Soon after, an employee was assaulted and robbed in the parking lot by a gunman. After that, a volley of shots blasted through the firm’s windows during business hours. Three suspects thought to be involved in the law firm attacks were rounded up in this week’s sweep.

Via the arrests, police say they also foiled a murder-for-hire plot.

It’s a true wild west show out there,” John Henderson of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario said in an interview with CBC News.

“It’s gotten to the point where there could be as much as 60 per cent of the towing industry in the GTA [that] is run by the criminal element.”

Police say the growing turf war between the tow cartels has thus far resulted in four murders, one of which occurred only this month. Some 30 tow trucks were torched, two of them just a couple of weeks ago. The only solution to the problem, police and tow association officials say, is greater regulatory oversight by the provincial government.

[Image: ThamKC/Shutterstock]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on May 28, 2020

    Always crazy hearing how complicated insurance-related situations can be in other places. I guess you should plan your towing service and repair shop ahead of time in Ontario.

  • -Nate -Nate on May 30, 2020

    WHEE ! . Who let the dogs put / trolls in ? . -Nate

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