Man charged after police recover 6 stolen vehicles

·4 min read
Ottawa police recovered four Jeep Grand Cherokees and two Dodge Ram trucks on Wednesday while executing a pair of search warrants in the city's west end. Two more stolen vehicles have been 'observed' in neighbouring jurisdictions, police said. All eight vehicles disappeared from Ottawa area dealerships. An Ottawa man is facing 52 charges in relation to the thefts. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press - image credit)
Ottawa police recovered four Jeep Grand Cherokees and two Dodge Ram trucks on Wednesday while executing a pair of search warrants in the city's west end. Two more stolen vehicles have been 'observed' in neighbouring jurisdictions, police said. All eight vehicles disappeared from Ottawa area dealerships. An Ottawa man is facing 52 charges in relation to the thefts. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press - image credit)

An Ottawa man is facing dozens of charges after police recovered six vehicles that were stolen from local car dealerships in what one investigator suggested could signal a new direction in auto thefts.

In a news release issued Thursday, Ottawa police said they launched the investigation in March after learning a man was purchasing and using fraudulent vehicle identification number (VIN) plates.

The plates, which are typically found along the edge of the driver's side dashboard, inside the doorjamb or sometimes inside the engine bay, are stamped with the vehicle's unique 17-digit VIN, which can be used to trace its origin. It's illegal to remove or alter the plates.

Ottawa police told CBC they recovered four Jeep Grand Cherokees and two Dodge Ram trucks while executing a pair of search warrants in the city's west end on Wednesday. The vehicles had been stolen from "Ottawa and area dealerships over the course of the last months," according to the news release.

Investigators also recovered "key fob programming equipment, key fobs, and fraudulent documentation," according to Ottawa police.

2 more vehicles sold, police believe

Const. Scott Herriot told CBC two more stolen vehicles have been "observed" by police in neighbouring jurisdictions.

"They haven't been recovered yet. The neighbouring services that are helping us out have actually seen them, observed them, and so we're making efforts to recover them."

Herriot said investigators believe those vehicles were sold by the same suspect.

"I believe he used online platforms to do that," the detective said.

The 32-year-old man is charged with eight counts each of theft of a motor vehicle, unauthorized use of a computer, possession of an automobile master key, fraud not exceeding $5,000 and altering, removing or obliterating a VIN.

The man also faces seven counts of trafficking in property obtained by crime, and two counts each of breaking and entering and possessing break-in tools. He faces one additional charge of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.

The man was scheduled to appear in court Thursday.

Ottawa police also thanked the Smiths Falls Police Service, Gatineau Police, Ontario Provincial Police and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for their assistance with the investigation.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

'A different element'

As CBC has reported, thieves have been targeting high-end Toyota and Lexus SUVs for years, often stealing them from driveways while their owners slept.

Herriot said these latest thefts could potentially signal a new trend, not only because the vehicles were stolen from dealerships, but also because they involved different makes and models.

"This is a different element," Herriot said. "The vehicle can be 'woken up' if you will through a different method, and it doesn't actually have to be physically broken into."

Not so with the other brands, Herriot said.

"What we were seeing with Toyota and Lexus is a different method, only because of the system of the vehicle."

Another difference, according to Herriot, is that the suspect in the latest thefts is a local resident, whereas many of the Toyota and Lexus thefts were linked to suspects from the Montreal area. Herriot would not say whether police believe the Ottawa suspect was working alone or as part of a criminal gang.

Many of those stolen Toyota and Lexus SUVs were likely shipped to Africa and the Middle East for resale, according to police.

No make or model safe from theft

On Thursday, police advised owners of those brands to remain alert.

"Any Lexus/Toyota SUV owners that notice new or fresh damage to the driver's side door handle or observe someone taking photos of their dashboard Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), are asked to report it to the Ottawa Police. Owners of newer push button start SUVs who notice damage are also encouraged to report it," according to the news release issued Thursday.

While those vehicles are typically stolen from driveways rather than dealerships, Herriot said no make or model is safe from theft, particularly if they have push-button ignition.

"If they have the tech available ... then it's quite possible," he said.

New Jeep Grand Cherokees start at more than $52,000, while a new Dodge Ram 1500 starts at about $48,000.

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