The ring was so sophisticated, potential buyers across the nation and overseas were able to order specific car models, such as Lexis SUVs and Range Rovers, officials said Wednesday.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, joined by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other agency officials, said 19 ring members were under arrest, charged with stealing some 291 cars worth up to $10 million around the city.
"Cars that retailed for as much as $30,000 were being sold for as little as three to five thousand dollars," Kelly said. Eight of the stolen cars "have been identified on the high seas, bound for Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan," he said. "They are being turned around and will be returned to the United States." He identified the ringleader as William Cruz, 28, already being held on Rikers Island, who ran the ring through his lieutenant, Michael Torres.
Kelly said the crew relied on a chain of command that included a boss, "steal men," individuals who produced illegal paperwork and two Toyota dealership workers who gave an employee of Big Daddy Locksmith in Brooklyn the master key codes to manufacture counterfeit keys.
The ring's steal men would take orders for specific models and await the keys, a process Kelly said often took less than 48 hours. The vehicles were then stripped of their identifying VIN numbers. False titles would be printed and phony registrations provided from a gang associate in Pennsylvania.
“This car theft ring was doing a swift business selling stolen luxury vehicles. That is, until our Auto Crime Division stepped in,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said. “I want to commend the detectives who worked on this case, the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and the Department of Homeland Security for their efforts shutting down this ring.
James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said: “Our combined efforts put an end to a criminal enterprise responsible for stealing approximately two-hundred eighty cars from the metropolitan area. Port security is a top priority for HSI, and we are poised to continue to use the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) to detect, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations from passing illicit merchandise and contraband through our seaports.”
The indictment names the following individuals and their responsibilities:
William Cruz (“Cruz”) was the operation boss who took orders from the black market and directed the steal crew to find vehicles that met the orders and carry out the thefts.
Michael Torres (“Torres”) was Cruz’s lieutenant who facilitated all phases of the operation, and assumed leadership when Cruz was unable to do so.
Henry Morel (“Charlie”) and Nathaniel Urena (“Nathaniel”) were the ‘paper men’ who provided forged documents, including certificates of title, registrations, counterfeit VIN and VIN stickers. These documents concealed the vehicles’ status as stolen should they ever be stopped by the police, and maintained the vehicles’ optimal value for resale.
Dennis Aviles (“Aviles”) who works for Plaza Acura, obtained Lexus and Toyota key codes through his brothers Joseph Aviles (“Joey”) and Edward Aviles (“Eddie”), who both work at the Brooklyn-based Plaza Toyota. Once they were provided with the target-cars’ VIN numbers, they searched the Toyota/Lexus database to find the corresponding key codes, which were used to cut and program counterfeit keys to steal the cars.
Vicente Abreu (“Big Daddy”), owner of Big Daddy Hardware, and Jose Miguel Mejia-Rodriguez (“Jose Miguel”) used the fraudulently obtained key codes to manufacture counterfeit keys for the steal men get into and start stolen cars without damaging the doors and steering columns.
Adam Jiminez (“Flaco”), John Acosta (“Johnny”), Edwin Mercado (“Alex”), Felix Cespedes (“Canela”), Aurelio Delossantos (“Pepe”), Jesus Gonzalez (“Joshua”) and Francisco Rodriguez (“Cisco”) acted as the steal men. They were responsible for carrying out the physical thefts, gaining entry into the pre-selected vehicles and driving them to predetermined “lay up” sites, such as street locations or one of several Kings and Queens county parking lots, to determine whether the cars have LoJack or any other tracking devices.
In addition to reselling the stolen vehicles in New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the United States, William Cruz also worked with a buyer to facilitate the international sale of six vehicles over the black market. Three of those vehicles were headed to Yemen and the other three to Afghanistan, when their ships were turned around and the stolen vehicles seized.
While the final purchasers have not been identified, the buyer who did assist in trafficking the stolen vehicles has been indicted. Each of the 16 individuals named above has been charged with enterprise corruption for the theft of 42 vehicles valued at $1.6 million, which have been located. Further evidence established the theft of 291 cars valued at more than $10 million. Enterprise corruption is a class B felony that violates Penal Law Section 460.20 (1) (a), and carries mandatory prison time of 8 1/3 to 25 years and 12 1/2 to 25 years on predicates.
(Left to right) Assistant Port Director of the Port of New York/Newark John Lava, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York James T. Hayes, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman
The investigation was conducted by NYPD Detective Guido Trivino of the NYPD Auto Crime Division, under the supervision of Lieutenant Christopher Willis and the overall supervision of Deputy Inspector Joseph Kenney and Organized Crime Control Chief Anthony Izzo. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Attorneys General Dana A. Roth and Michael Bongiorno, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff.
In addition, the work of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection was also recognized: Robert E. Perez, Director, Field Operation, New York Field Office, Adele Fasano, Port Director, Port of New York/Newark, and Members of the Customs and Border Protection Outbound Enforcement Team: John Lava, Assistant Port Director, Port of New York/Newark, Supervisory Customs and Border Protection Officer Keith Wagner, Supervisory Customs and Border Protection Officer Allan Filipe, Customs and Border Protection Officer Daniel Donnellan, and Customs and Border Protection Officer James Askin.
Bill Warner Private Investigator, SEX, CRIME, CHEATERS & TERRORISM at www.wbipi.com