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An investigation into Roma organized crime involving distraction-style thefts/frauds in Durham Region has led to the dismantling of an international ring involved in thefts across Ontario and Quebec. In total, 34 suspects have been arrested/identified and 263 charges laid. This investigation has identified over 400 persons associated to this organized crime ring.
Project Mansfield began with the DRPS in November 2011 but concluded with the active support of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), RCMP and Toronto Police. Also assisting were the OPP, FBI, Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection, Interpol and police services in Montreal, York Region, London, Sudbury, and Peel Region.
“This is by far the largest investigation of its kind here in Durham Region and I am very proud of our hard working men and women who devoted so much time and energy to this important investigation,” said DRPS Chief Constable Mike Ewles.
In the fall of 2011, two frontline officers in Oshawa began noticing a trend in distraction-style thefts and frauds occurring in Durham Region. Unknown suspects would target jewelry stores, convenience store and even senior citizens. As one distracted the victim, others would steal valuables and leave the scene. The suspects involved men, women and their children who were observed tucking stolen items inside their long skirts which had inside panel compartments. A backgrounder is attached on the most popular techniques.
Other police services in Ontario had similar incidents. The investigation soon focused on a family living on Denby Drive in Pickering and an associate on Eastdale Avenue in Toronto. DRPS Investigators continued to share information with other police services as they realized the ring was active in many other jurisdictions, including Toronto, London, Sudbury, York and Peel. DRPS coordinated with each of these services to identify the known distraction theft groups.
It is alleged the ring would recruit individuals into Canada. Once in Canada, they would claim refugee status, and then apply for social assistance, primarily in Toronto. They would be brought into the distraction-theft/fraud operation and hand over any profits to the ringleaders. (See below for distraction methods)
On August 9, 2012, the investigative team closed in on the four main targets, but unfortunately, two had fled to Europe.
Dinarca CALDARAS, age 38, formerly of Denby Drive in Pickering has been charged with: Instructing Commission of an Offence for Criminal Organization; Participation in Activities of a Criminal Organization; Laundering Proceeds of Crime; Conspiracy to Commit an Indictable Offence; Theft of Credit Card x4; Identity Theft x4; Fraud over $5000 x3; Theft of Motor Vehicle over $5000 x2. She was held for bail and remanded in custody.
A province-wide arrest warrant has been issued for her husband, Ovidiu CALDARAS, age 42, formerly of Denby Drive in Pickering for: Participate in Criminal Organization; Conspiracy to Commit an Indictable Offence; and Breach of Recognizance. Investigators believe he has fled to Germany via Romania.
A province-wide arrest warrant has been issued for her son, Robert CALDARAS, age 20, and formerly of Denby Drive in Pickering is charged with: Participate in Criminal Organization; Conspiracy to Commit an Indictable Offence and multiple fraud charges. Investigators believe he has fled to Germany.
Claudiu UNGURU, age 37, of Eastdale Avenue in Toronto is charged with: Participation in Activities of a Criminal Organization; Conspiracy to Commit an Indictable Offence; Possession of Property Obtained by Crime Over $5000; Theft of Credit Card x4; Identity Theft x4; and Fraud Over $5000 x3. He was held for bail and was remanded in custody.
A list of all those charged and the outstanding warrants is attached. During this investigation, several of the accused have been charged with serious criminal offences.
Investigators have been working with various levels of government to identify fraudulent use of social and support services. The DRPS shared information with Toronto Social Services, who calculated that the persons identified in this investigation have received over $2 million from various social support programs since January 2012.
The investigators seized a total of $85,000 in Canadian currency and stolen merchandise as well as credit cards. They have also identified over $1 million in suspicious wire transactions shipped overseas.
Anyone with new information regarding this investigation is asked to contact D/Sgt. Bawden of the Project Mansfield team at 1-888-579-1520 ext. 2511. Anonymous tips can be made to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or online at www.durhamregionalcrimestoppers.ca and tipsters may be eligible for a cash reward of up to $2,000.
Project Mansfield – Four Distraction Theft Strategies
Investigators say these were four common strategies were used in the distraction-style thefts that occurred in various locations in Ontario:
1. Street Distraction: Suspects see expensive jewelry on a target (usually an elderly or vulnerable person) in a residential area shopping mall or plaza. A member of the group, usually a female offers or gives jewelry in remembrance of their dead family member. While one suspect talk to the senior, another places the fake necklace around the target’s neck. Then they swiftly remove the expensive necklace, fooling the target into thinking they have removed the “new” one. The suspects leave in a hurry to an awaiting vehicle before the victim realizes the switch has been made. In several cases a struggle has ensued with the victims. In one incident the accused was armed with a knife to assist with their escape.
2. Store Distraction:(Please see attached video) Suspects target a jewelry store or convenience store when only one employee is working. Members of the group distract the employee while other members access the rear storage room and steal currency, cigarettes and safes. The concealment method often involves specially-design long skirts with hidden compartments inside. The suspects have stolen thousands of dollars in cigarettes, which are later sold at a discount to other retailers.
3. Follow the Shopper Distraction: Suspect(s) will closely place themselves behind shopper at a checkout and watch debit card being used and memorizes PIN number. Suspect follows the shopper out to the victim’s car and distracts them. While the victim is distracted, a second suspect sneaks around and removes the debit card from the purse or wallet. The suspects then go to a nearby financial institution and withdrawals a large sum money from their account before the victim is aware that their card is missing.
4. Family in Need Distraction: Suspect(s) will stop victims on the street or an “on/off ramp” near a major highway. They will approach the victim and supply a fictitious story about a family member in need. Examples include the need for money to go home to Montreal to visit a sick relative. The suspect offers expensive-looking jewelry as collateral for financial assistance. The victim later learns the jewelry is worthless, despite the fact it had been stamped with 14k or 18K marks.
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Chief Mike Ewles, D/Sgt. Cathy Bawden and Insp. Bruce Townley with Seized Merchandise (JPG file, 140.7K bytes)
D/Sgt. Demonstrates a Hidden Compartment In a Skirt (JPG file, 166.0K bytes)
Project Mansfield Charge List (PDF file, 2,202.4K bytes)