Toronto Police say an investigation into 32 reported cellphone store robberies in the Greater Toronto Area over a six-month period has resulted in the arrest of 22 males and laying 278 charges. However, nine of those cases are still unsolved.
Insp. Lauren Pogue held a news conference Wednesday morning detailing the investigation, dubbed the “Matrix Bandits,” which started in December 2018. The string of robberies spread across the GTA in the areas of Toronto, York, Peel, Halton and Hamilton, according to police.
The males arrested range in age from young boys to men as old as 25, and some of the accused had no previous contact with the police.
Police said that during the robberies, between two and five males would enter stores and control and intimidate employees and customers by using weapons, threats and zip ties.
The employees were ordered to fill large gym bags with cellphones, said investigators. Police said the suspects would then flee the stores using stolen vehicles and car-jacking, said police.
Investigators allege the group was using social media platforms to recruit more members.
The robberies escalated in nature and had expanded to other areas, said police.
The charges laid in 23 of the 32 cases include robbery, theft under $5,000, possession of a weapon, theft of a motor vehicle, fleeing police and disguising with intent, according to police.
Out of the 32 cases, police are still investigating nine unsolved cellphone store robberies in the GTA.
Pogue released security camera footage from one of unsolved cases on Feb. 11 that shows two masked males entering a cellphone store located in the Lawrence Avenue West and Allen Road area.
Pogue said the males assaulted both the store employee and an 83-year-old customer with a baton.
Video of the incident shows one suspect forcing the employee to the back of the store and demanded cellphones, said police. As the elderly woman tried to escape, the second suspect struck her numerous times on the lower part of her body, shoving her to the ground and then dragging her by the arm to the back of the store, said Pogue.
“This is what’s particularly concerning about this video is, for all accounts, this employee and customer are complying with all the demands,” said Pogue.
“It’s an unprovoked assault and entirely unnecessary.”
The two suspects fled with numerous phones, said police.
Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying the two men. Anyone with information can contact investigators at 416-808-7350 or Crime Stoppers anonymously.
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