Police have made several arrests after a string of violent armed robberies targeting Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) collector booths, retail businesses and a financial institution.
The incidents, where TTC employees and retail clerks had guns pointed at their heads, took place between March 7 and May 28 this year and led to the establishment of Project Castle – dubbed for the robbery at Castle Frank subway station.
Hold Up Staff Inspector Mike Earl said the robberies were often caught on camera.
“In one of the robberies, we actually have pictures of a gun being pointed at the head of the employee and that has got to have a devastating effect on that individual,” said Earl, of a robbery of a Tim Horton’s coffee shop.
With support from 11, 12, 51, 53, 54 and 55 Divisions’ major crime units, Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy officers, the Toronto Police Transit Patrol and TTC investigative services, extensive stakeouts were done on the subway corridor to ensure the safety of TTC employees and the public.
The TTC booths targeted were Chester, Rosedale, Greenwood, Caste Frank and Donlands.
After the last in the string of robberies at a gas station on Kingston Rd., the suspects allegedly fled in a motor vehicle that crashed into a tree in Durham. The suspects fled the scene.
“It was that motor vehicle that assisted us in the investigation to identify the suspects involved in this series of robberies,” said Staff Inspector Mike Earl, at a news conference at police headquarters on July 28. “That’s how we came to the conclusion that we did.”
The identification of stolen property from some of the TTC robberies and from one of the retail robberies resulted in the identification of two suspects. An investigation of these individuals led to several other suspects being identified in the robberies. On July 24, police executed 10 search warrants in Toronto, Mississauga and Durham and made several arrests. An additional five persons were arrested and charged for a loaded firearm located during a search. A total of 140 charges were laid in the 12 armed robberies.
“The robberies were orchestrated by three or more individuals at any given time, wearing masks and armed with handguns,” said Earl. “At the time that the search warrants were executed, three handguns were located, two replica handguns and a loaded .38 revolver along with stolen TTC passes from the collector booth robberies.”
Javar Thomas, 24; Stefon Edwards, 20; David Skelton, 18; Andre Edwards, 21; Jonathan Pileggi, 19; and a 17-year-old Young Person are facing several theft- and weapons-related charges.
“It is believed that these individuals are responsible for further robberies prior to March 7, 2015 and we are hoping that the public can assist, through Crime Stoppers, in linking these individuals with other robberies,” Earl said. “There are also other individuals with this gang that have committed these robberies with them that have not been identified. It is good news to get these individuals off the street.”
They will appear in a Scarborough court on July 29 for bail hearings. Earl said Thomas and Edwards are no strangers to police. “They have violent backgrounds and we are looking for information that may lead us to further robberies with these individuals,” he added.
TTC Chief Executive Officer Andy Byford praised Toronto Police and Hold Up investigators for making arrests.
“This is the news we have been waiting for. For too long, these robberies have been going on... The various hold-ups were shocking incidents and it’s appalling that this kind of thing should happen. If anyone out there think they can rob TTC premises with impunity, then they are wrong," he said. "We have progressively upgraded our CCTV system and it was that system that provided compelling evidence that Staff Inspector Earl and his team were able to use.”
Thomas along with Damen Smith, Houghton Cozier, Vanessa Barachin and two Young Persons face weapon charges in related to the loaded handgun found during the execution of the search warrant. In addition, Cozier was charged with crack cocaine possession and Barachin, Kadeem Thompson and Alexander Morand were charged with breaching bail conditions.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-7350, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416−222−TIPS (8477), online at 222tips.com, text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637), or Leave A Tip on Facebook.