TORONTO - The former executive director of a Salvation Army facility was charged Monday, following the discovery of a massive cache of toys police said were stolen from the charity and bound for a booming black market.
Three tractor-trailers worth of toys were found over the weekend in a cold cellar warehouse in Brampton, Ont., and in a facility in Toronto. It's hoped the toys can be returned to the Salvation Army in time for the charity to distribute them this holiday season, police said Monday.
The toys and other gifts and products, including two bicycles donated by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, were either taken from the Salvation Army warehouse in Toronto or diverted before they got to the facility and were to be sold for profit, police say.
"This is obviously something that myself, as an investigator with 23 years of experience, I haven't seen anything to this magnitude before," said Det.-Sgt. James Gotell.
"It's a terrible shame when people donate their good, hard-earned money towards buying toys for the needy in the holiday times and these articles are now being redirected for profit and that's what we're alleging. It's a very sorry case."
David Rennie, 51, of Toronto, has been charged with 17 counts of possession of property obtained by crime, 10 counts of theft over $5,000, seven counts of theft under $5,000, criminal breach of trust, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and several counts relating to trafficking in stolen goods.
"We're alleging the thefts took place under David Rennie's control and without the permission of the Salvation Army," said Det. Robert Strain.
Portions of shipments from high-end donors would either be taken from the Salvation Army's warehouse or were siphoned off before they ever got there, Strain alleged.
The case is shedding light on what police call a booming black market for stolen goods. Though the scale of the alleged toy theft is unusual, police said various items are frequently stolen by the truckload.
"I've been involved in a lot of investigations over the years and it's amazing what in fact can be bought and sold in the city of Toronto very quickly," said Gotell.
Investigations have found that anything from body wash to beer is stolen from tractor trailers and then sold, he said.
"You can sell them to, for example, flea markets, corner stores, dollar stores — anybody who's willing to buy product at a vastly discounted rate will purchase these things, then sell them for profit themselves. It's not hard to do."
Police allege a company called Northern Sales Group, which they said controls the Toronto warehouse where the toys were found, was involved in a scheme to sell the Salvation Army toys and investigators said they are looking to arrest and charge a second suspect connected to the group.
The two bicycles donated by McGuinty were found stacked in the washroom of the Northern Sales Group warehouse, Strain said. They were supposed to be used at a Salvation Army camp this past summer, he said.
There was a "significant" amount of toys in the warehouses, but it's likely not all of them, police said.
The Salvation Army announced the shocking theft last week, saying up to 100,000 items worth about $2 million were taken from the facility in north-end Toronto over a period of nearly two years.
The charity fired Rennie after discovering the massive amount of missing toys. Rennie is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 4.