The Toronto Police Service (TPS) announced on July 28 that it had arrested 10 people suspected of involvement in a string of robberies at various Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway stations, as well as gas stations, stores and a bank, from March 3 to May 28.
In an investigation dubbed “Project Castle”, the TPS acted on 10 search warrants on multiple dwellings across the Greater Toronto Area on the early morning of July 23, police said in a press release. The probe had also involved stakeouts of subway corridors to ensure TTC employees’ safety.
Among the detained suspects is 24-year-old Toronto resident Javar Thomas, whose numerous charges include five counts of armed robbery, five of disguise with intent, six of possession of a firearm where prohibited and theft of more than $5,000. Pickering, Ont. resident Stefon Edwards, 20, faces 12 counts each of armed robbery, disguise with intent and failing to comply with probation, among others. Also facing many charges: 18-year-old Jonathan Pileggi of Stouffville; 18-year-old Davidae Skelton of Mississauga; and 22-year-old Torontonian Vanessa Barachin. Two teenage boys have not been named publicly due to their ages.
The TPS made the announcement at a press conference at its headquarters on the morning of July 28. TPS Holdup staff inspector Mike Earl and TTC CEO Andy Byford spoke at the conference, which was live-streamed on YouTube.
“A total of 140 charges were laid at that time,” Earl told reporters at the conference, referring to the searches and arrests on July 23. “The robberies… were orchestrated by three or more individuals at any given time, wearing masks and armed with handguns.”
Earl said that the charges involved a total of 12 armed robberies – five at TTC collector booths, two at gas stations, two at donut shops and others at a convenience store, a Cash Money location and a Scotiabank branch.
“At the time that the search warrants were executed,” Earl added, “three handguns were located, two replica handguns and a loaded .38 revolver, along with stolen TTC passes from the collector-booth robberies.”
The TPS believed that this group of suspects had also been involved in previous robberies, Earl told the reporters. In addition, other perpetrators who had helped commit the TTC robberies had not yet been identified.
“This is the news we have been waiting for,” Byford said at the press conference. “It’s very good news for our employees.”
Byford called the TTC holdups “shocking incidents” for the workers who had been involved. “For too long, these robberies have been going on, so I am very grateful to the Toronto Police Service,” he said. “It is appalling that this kind of thing should happen. If anyone out there thinks that they can rob TTC premises with impunity, then they are wrong.”
He added that the TTC had taken steps to increase security for workers, including progressive upgrades of CCTV surveillance and of its Transit Enforcement Unit, as well as changes to the design of collector booths and reduced cash on hand.
“It is very traumatic,” said Byford about robbery. “You don’t come to work to expect to have a gun pointed at you, or to be threatened and to be robbed. At the end of the day, you’re there to deliver a service to the customer.” He said that the TTC offers time off work and counselling services to employees involved in robberies. “In some cases, it takes weeks, even months or longer, to get over what is a very traumatic experience.”
“It is good news to get these individuals off the streets,” said Earl.
The suspects made court appearances in Scarborough on July 29 for bail hearings.