|Durham Regional Police display some of the types of items stolen in "Project Mansfield." on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. (Veronica Henri/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - An international Roma crime ring based just east of the city has been dismantled, police say.
Project Mansfield, which began in November 2011, has led to 34 suspects being arrested and 263 charges laid.
"This is by far the largest investigation of its kind here in Durham Region, and I am very proud of our hard-working men and women who devoted so much time and energy to this important investigation," Chief Const. Mike Ewles said.
The Roma cell was recruiting people from Romania to come to Ontario, and the investigation has identified more than 400 people associated with this crime organization.
Police said there were four common methods of distraction-style thefts or frauds targeting stores and people, particularly senior citizens.
One method is a distraction where several Romas enter a store and while some keep the clerk busy the others rob the store blind.
Another is a family-in-need distraction, where a Roma will stop someone on the street or by a highway ramp and give a tale of needing money to travel to see a sick relative.
The Roma will offer expensive-looking jewelry as collateral, with stamps of 14k or 18k, but the items are fake.
They are also skilled at tricking vulnerable people out of their jewelry by switching the pieces with fakes.
Another trick is to watch people with their debit cards to obtain their PINs. Then some distract the person while others steal the card.