Henry Platnick never imagined his collection of ancient fossilized shark’s teeth would become a piece of the puzzle in the largest Toronto Police investigation into a ring of break-and-enter and car thieves.
Investigators had the pleasure of reuniting Platnick with his collection five years from when it was actually stolen from his home, along with other valuables and his SUV, while he was away on vacation over New Year’s 2012.
“It’s awful to be on vacation and have that happen and come back and think somebody’s in your house and going through your stuff… I was worried after we had the break-in for years afterward. We put a new security system in. Every time you leave, you think about it,” he said.
When he learned police had created a website where he could search for the items taken from the house, he didn’t hold out much hope that he would find the collection he nurtured over many years and shared with his kids, now adults. He noted, though, the megalodon teeth, though millions of years old, are worth something, they hold more value in the memories and the work in collecting them over time.
“Once you have something you’re collecting, you get attached to it and show it off to other people… it’s a lot of memories,” he said, noting he has another great story attached to them.
“It’s how it’s supposed to happen. It’s amazing they were able to stick with it and find these guys and crack the case and I know it affected a lot of people. I would like to thank the Toronto Police. They were persistent and did a great job.”
Superintendent Scott Gilbert said it’s a great story.
“You have these megalodon teeth that took 2 million years to get to where they were stolen from, and this is just another blip in the journey. To think these are items could have been destroyed and lost for everyone else to see,” he said.
He said that, despite these being grouped as property crimes, their effect on the community is vast.
“The community was affected greatly. They were very worried. These were often happening when homes were occupied,” he said. “What finally brought it to a conclusion was great teamwork, great dedication, great communication, really dedicated officers, people who were mad their communities were being victimized.”
Investigators from 32, 53 and 22 Division, as well as members of the Major Crime Task Force and Forensic Identification Services, took part in the nine-month case that included partnerships with the surrounding GTA police services.
Detective David Zajac caught the case that began the Project Yellowbird investigation, when a yellow Porsche Carrera, with summer racing tires, was stolen from a North York home during the ice storm.
“There are not a lot of people who can drive these cars. That led me to reach out in our Service and the GTA and see if have similar break-and-enters,” he said, noting they zeroed in on a criminal group that had similar convictions dating back to 2002.
In the end, they were able to locate 43 vehicles, worth $2.3 million, and over 4,100 items of property, worth $4 million, during the investigation, after executing seven search warrants on homes and storage lockers, in addition to two handguns and half a kilo of cocaine.
“We were able to dismantle the organization when they were sending the cars overseas. We were able to track the cars going to the ports and track bank accounts,” said Zajac.
At this point, there have been five men convicted who have been sentenced to four-to-six years in prison.
“It’s significant in Canada. It’s unheard of for break-and-enters. This was a tribute to the hard work of officers and the evidence we were able to put before the courts, which helped determine the sentencing itself,” said Zajac, noting that no victims were re-traumatized by having to testify in court. “We put a case before the courts where they took a plea. We didn’t put victims through another trauma of having to testify in court.”
It also had a great reduction on crime in the city, as the group was responsible for two-to-three break-and-enters per week, at times, and he believes a chilling effect on others thinking about committing similar crimes.
“There was a significant drop in break-and-enters in the city of Toronto and, to this day, we still see it,” he said. “We’re taking property crime seriously. We’re having people breaking into your home, your castle. We’re trying to get these people off the street.”