Fourteen people have been charged in a string of residential break-and-enters that targeted homes across the Greater Toronto Area, with as much as $2.7 million in personal property stolen, police said Wednesday.
Police allege the suspects were part of an organized crime ring based out of South America, and stole items that ranged from high end jewelry and luxury bags to cash.
"I've never seen a recovery this big," said Det. Ron Strauch of Halton regional police, noting that he's been an officer for more than a decade.
"Any other day for me, about $50,000 worth of stuff would be a huge win," he said.
Officers with the Halton force began investigating late last year, he said, after analysts noted a spike in residential break-and-enters.
In some senses, they followed a specific pattern, Strauch said, with suspects allegedly entering through the back doors of houses. But in other ways, the hits were random. The accused didn't always target large houses or those in particularly affluent neighbourhoods, and the alleged crimes took place across the GTA, he said.
Strauch said the investigation was fairly slow going until a witness who was out walking his dog in Oakville, Ont., saw a break-and-enter take place early last month.
"Because of witnessing that, he was able to give us a lot of information that sort of blew this investigation up really fast in about three weeks' time," Strauch said.
Investigators tracked the suspects' cars and collected surveillance footage, he said. Surveillance photos released by police show men wearing black hoodies with masks pulled over their mouths who appear to be trying to break into the back door of a house.
Officers conducted four search warrants across regions surrounding Toronto — two in homes, one in a storage unit and one in a motel, Strauch said.
They seized stolen property that included a watch worth $50,000, a designer suitcase worth $20,000 and slippers worth $5,000, he noted.
Halton police charged 10 people — all of whom are Chilean nationals — with offences including break and enter and possession of property obtained by crime and York police charged four others. Strauch said the earliest incidents linked to the group happened late last year.
He declined to comment on how the suspects got to Canada, but said most of them entered the country earlier this year.
In total, police said, 69 charges were laid.