Sharp Eye For Staged Collisions

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 11:02 a.m. June 13, 2014
Updated: 12:05 p.m. June 13, 2014

When two drivers brought their vehicles to the East Collision Reporting Centre in July 2009, claiming they were in an accident, retired Constable Peter Ritza suspected they had made up a story about the reported collision. He was right.

Two cars with extensive body damage beside a TPS tow truck
Vehicles involved in the investigation

Detective Constable Nikolaj Bokalo, a collision reconstructionist, examined the information and evidence and concluded that the vehicles were in a staged collision.

Traffic Services senior investigator Detective Constable Stefan Nasner who, with his partner Detective Constable Mark Poliak, was responsible for the investigation of the original staged collision, recognized this occurrence was part of larger fraud.

The process to identify all of the involved parties was time-consuming and painstaking, Nasner’s perseverance paid off and numerous people were charged.

This was, however, the tip of the iceberg of a multi-million-dollar fraud ring.

State Farm Insurance reported losses of $4 million on the case that involved 77 staged collisions.

Stemming from that investigation, the Insurance Bureau of Canada received additional information and it was later determined that there was an overlap between their investigation and the one being conducted by Traffic Services at the same time.

As a result, Project Whiplash – which also involved the  Financial Services Commission of Ontario and the Service’s  Financial Crimes investigators – was launched.

On June 12, Traffic Services and Organized Crime Enforcement – Financial Crimes were honoured for investigative excellence and the successful execution of Project Whiplash with the William Bishop Award.

Two decades ago, the retired Superintendent and his family, with the support of then-Deputy Chief William Boothby – established the award that recognizes investigative brilliance.

In addition to Ritza, Bokalo, Nasner and Poliak, the other recipients were Detectives Michael McCulloch and Phil Chung and Detective Constables Kajamuganathan Kathiravelu, Melanie Rathbone and Belinda Tuckwell.

The driving force behind the project initiation, McCulloch assembled a team of highly skilled and dedicated officers who worked with the IBC, FSCO and the FCU for several months gathering documentary evidence, while Kathiravelu and Rathbone used their exceptional organizational skills to coordinate disclosure.

A group of men and women in a line flanked by flags
Belina Tuckwell, Phil Chung, Melanie Rathbone, Mark Poliak, William Bishop, Stefan Nasner, Peter Ritza, Michael McCulloch and Kajamuganathan Kathiravelu

Prior to the takedown, Chung assisted with obtaining the necessary production orders required to seize documentary evidence and coordinated teams of officers to conduct surveillance of the suspects.

Tuckwell acted as a liaison between the FCU and Traffic Services and attended meetings with the Whiplash team, crown attorneys and insurance bureau to discuss evidence-gathering and the appropriate charges to be laid. In the early stages of the investigation, she also created detailed spread sheets and determined which financial institutions would require production orders.

“I want to congratulate you for your outstanding investigative work that led to the people responsible for this type of crime going before the court,” Bishop told the recipients. “This was a classic example of why this award was initiated.”

Traffic Services Detective Sergeant Anne MacDonald said the investigation was an outstanding team effort that addresses a major issue.

“Staged collisions cost all of us millions of dollars yearly and higher insurance. In addition, people’s lives are at risk because we have unsuspecting members of the public who are targeted. In this investigation, not all of them were like that. Some were staged from the beginning involving parties on both sides who were aware of what was going on,” MacDonald said.

“…We were able to get the message out to the community that we are tackling this type of crime while, at the same time, letting them know that if you are going to be involved in something like this, we are going to prosecute you. We will go after you and you will be charged.”

To date, two paralegals, a tow truck driver and a rehabilitation centre owner are still before the courts.

The remaining 33 people charged have been successfully dealt with in court and the sentences in these cases ranged from fines, conditional sentences and orders to making charitable contributions.

A measuring stick between the fenders of two different cars
Investigators take measurements of damage to vehicles involved in the Project Whiplash investigation

The charges laid by the FSCO in relation to the rehabilitation centres and their directors resulted in fines ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

“The team of dedicated officers demonstrated their loyalty to the Toronto Police Service core values and their duty to protect the citizens of the City of Toronto from individuals who commit insurance crimes,” said Staff Superintendent James Ramer of Detective Operations. “They not only displayed extraordinary tenacity, dedication and professionalism, but also an unwavering commitment that contributed to the successful outcome of these investigations and protecting the community.”

Chief William Blair, Deputy Chief Mark Saunders of Specialized Operations Command, Staff Superintendent Jane Wilcox of Public Safety Operations, Traffic Services unit commander Superintendent Gord Jones and other high-ranking officers attended the awards ceremony. 

The team of dedicated officers demonstrated their loyalty to the Toronto Police Service core values and their duty to protect the citizens of the City of Toronto from individuals who commit insurance crimes

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