Police have arrested 22 suspects after a string of cell phone robberies in the Greater Toronto Area in a six-month period, starting last December, as they investigate more similar robberies.
The suspects, dubbed ‘The Matrix Bandits’, face 278 charges, including robbery, possession of a weapon, disguise with intent, motor vehicle theft and possession obtained by crime.
Their ages range from 15 to 25 and some of them had no previous contact with police.
A total of 14 robberies took place in Toronto, five in York region, two in Peel and one each in Halton and Hamilton.
Most of the robberies took place at Freedom Mobile Stores that have enhanced security to protect their employees.
The devices stolen were mainly iPhones.
At a press conference at police headquarters on June 12, Insp. Lauren Pogue of the Hold-Up Squad said the project resulted in charges in relation to 23 cellphone store robberies, two carjackings, a street robbery and seven vehicle thefts.
The arrests were made between January 12 and June 4.
Pogue said the initial suspects were known to each other and communicated and recruited further males through social media.
“They switched up their tactics, their clothing and the jurisdictions of their robberies in an attempt to evade police,” she said. “During each of these incidents, between two and five males would enter the store and control the employees and patrons through the use of weapons, verbal threats and sometimes restraint using zip ties.”
Police are still investigating nine unsolved robberies.
Pogue released a security camera video of one of them.
In an unprovoked assault on February 11, two males entered a store in the area of Allen Rd. and Lawrence Ave. W. and assaulted the employee and an 83-year-old customer with an expandable metal baton.
“The employee’s hands were bound with zip ties and the suspects filled their gym bags with merchandise,” said Pogue. “While they were distracted, the elderly female customer was able to escape.”
Hold Up investigators are seeking the public’s help in identifying two males wanted for robbery and assault.
They are both described as male, Black, mid-20s, between 5’10” and 6’ with thin builds. One of them was wearing a distinct puffy winter coat with a blue, white and red horizontal stripe and the other had on a blue coloured puffy jacket.
“I am truly hoping that after viewing this shocking video that someone in the community may help us solve this crime,” Pogue said. “We don’t believe this is the same group involved in the other thefts.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at (416) 808-7350, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at 222tips.com or text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637). Download the free Crime Stoppers Mobile App on iTunes, Google Play or Blackberry App World.