Project Targets Gun Smuggling Network
A Toronto and York Regional Police Services-led joint forces firearm investigation resulted in the seizure of 173 guns along with drugs and other proceeds of crime.
A total of 42 arrests have been made and 422 criminal charges laid during the year-long cross-border firearms trafficking investigation – Moneypenny – that started in March 2022.
In July 2022, York Regional Police Service Guns, Gangs & Drug Enforcement Unit initiated Project Zorro. During the initial phases of both investigations, undercover officers successfully bought quantities of fentanyl, cocaine and 25 firearms from identified persons.
The majority of the firearms seized from both investigations came from the United States.
In September 2022 and with assistance from Criminal Intelligence Services Ontario and Firearms Analysis and Training Enforcement, the two investigation were combined to maximize the potential for a positive investigative outcome.
The joint investigation focused on dismantling the smuggling network and identifying and prosecuting those responsible for the criminal activities.
Between November 2022 and March 2023, a total of 49 search warrants were executed in Toronto, Peel and Durham.
As part of the investigation, 87 handguns were seized in Chicago in a vehicle driven by a resident from Arizona. The firearms were destined for Canada.
At a news conference at police headquarters on April 11, Deputy Chief Rob Johnson said the guns were covered in bubble wrap to avoid damage.
“They were then wrapped in holiday paper in an attempt to avoid detection by border security,” he said. “The firearms were then placed in suitcases and put in the back of the resident’s vehicle.”
Police also seized cocaine, fentanyl, three sets of body armor and other items consistent with firearms possession and trafficking.
“The work of organized criminals spreads across borders and our police work must as well,” said Johnson. “Led by dedicated officers from law enforcement agencies in both Canada and the United States, we have disrupted criminal organizations and their illicit activities for the good of people in our city and in cities across Ontario and Canada.”
Over 80 firearms were on display during the news conference, including rifles with high capacity magazines and handguns with over-capacity magazines and switches that make them fire as an automatic weapon.
Through Project Moneypenny, Johnson said police are holding organized criminals accountable for putting the well-being and safety of communities, friends and families at risk.
“Make no mistake, when police take violent criminals off the streets, not to mention guns, drugs and other proceeds of crime, we are preventing activities that diminish the quality of life for our citizens,” he pointed out.
Other law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation were Durham Regional Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Canada Border Services Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Johnson thanked the agencies along with Toronto Police Service’s Integrated Gun & Gang Task Force, the Toronto Drug Squad and Intelligence Services for their dedication and ongoing commitment to keeping the city safe.
“A seizure of this size is going to save lives and is the result of the dedicated work of many at the Toronto Police Service and our partners in the room today,” added Superintendent Steve Watts of Organized Crime Enforcement.
York Regional Police Service Deputy Chief Alvaro Almeida said keeping citizens safe is the goal of every law enforcement agency.
“Rest assured, we will not be deterred from this goal,” he noted. “My sincere thanks to each and every officer from all participating services who worked diligently during this investigation to bring it to this successful conclusion.”
Because of the large gun seizure, OPP Chief Superintendent Paul Mackey said communities are safer today.
“The success of this investigation lies in the coordinated approach of the partners, including the members of the OPP Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit,” he said. “Together, we have sent a clear message that we will identify and pursue individuals who endanger the public.”
In a joint statement, Chris Taylor, the ATF Attache to Canada, and Bryan Berryman who is the Assistant Country Attaché ATF Canada, said the success of Operation Moneypenny showcases their joint efforts to stem the flow of illegal firearms into Canada.
“We are proud of ATF’s work in this investigation and honored to team with our Canadian law enforcement partners to reduce violent gun crime,” they added.
The accused have appeared in court and will be remanded to the Ontario Court of Justice Toronto on April 14.