A two-and-a-half-year investigation resulted in charges for 17 individuals involved in a major Queens-based auto theft and “title washing” ring, where high-end vehicles were swiped off city streets and even from dealerships, officials announced Thursday.
“The ring’s members were purportedly highly organized and fast,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. “It is alleged that a main ‘steal’ crew would canvas neighborhoods for luxury vehicles to steal and, once a vehicle was found, obtain the vehicle’s VIN, which was then used to make a duplicate key for the vehicle. Armed with the new key, the vehicle was then allegedly stolen — the whole process taking only a few hours. In some cases, crew members allegedly stole vehicles ‘to order.’”
In a 128-count indictment, eight of the defendants have been charged, among other crimes, with enterprise corruption under New York State’s Organized Crime Control Act and are accused of stealing more than 80 automobiles, prosecutors said.
The investigation, by the NYPD’s Auto Crime Division and the district attorney’s office’s Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau, found that those vehicles included pricey GMC Yukon Denalis, BMWs, Range Rovers and Mercedes-Benzes – stolen from Queens and elsewhere between February 22, 2013, and November 29, 2014.
The defendants, such as Franklyn Gutierrez, 33, of Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn, allegedly worked with a main theft crew – including Miguel (“Fello”) Maldonado, 34, of 77th Street in Woodhaven, Ariel Rodriguez, 28, of Highland Place in Brooklyn, German Garcia, 44, of Decatur Street in Brooklyn, and William (“Bori”) Cruz, 32, of Melrose Street in Brooklyn – that took high-end, newer vehicles off New York City streets and from dealerships and sometimes even stole vehicles “to order,” prosecutors said.
After crew members would find a vehicle, they would allegedly acquire the VIN and then take the number to a locksmith to create a key. The crew member would then use the key to drive the car to a location in Queens, where forged documents were created to conceal the vehicle’s true identity. A broker would then allegedly resell the vehicle. Many of the stolen vehicles were allegedly transported across the country, as well as around the world, including as far away as Nigeria and the Dominican Republic.
The indictments additionally charge defendants Onnie (“Sha”) Canady, 52, of 32nd Avenue in East Elmhurst, with being a middleman for stolen car buyers; Henry (“Charlie”) Morrel, 30, of Ridgewood Avenue, in Brooklyn, for having created the forged documents; and Edward (“Chapa”) Gomez, 39, of 100th Avenue in Hollis, as being the alleged black market broker who resold the stolen vehicles.
According to the district attorney’s office, earlier this week, police executed a search warrant at the home of Gomez, where many of the vehicles were taken as part of the operation, and allegedly recovered three kilos of cocaine, one kilo of heroin, a scale and $2,000 in cash.
Luis Ramos, 43, of 49th Street in Brooklyn; Santiago (“C-Lo”) Robinson, 34, of Shore Front in Arverne, Mayovanex Pena-Ortega, 26, of 34 Jerome Street in Brooklyn, Joel Urena, 34, of Beach 40th Street in Far Rockaway; Angel Acosta, 30, of 117th Street in the Richmond Hill; Edgar Rodriguez, 36, of Florida; Luis DeJesus, 32, of Hancock Street in Brooklyn; Angel Batista, 34, of Yonkers; and Walden Clarke, 37, of East 53rd Street in Brooklyn have also been indicted for their alleged participation in the ring. They each face up to seven years in prison if convicted, while the remaining defendants face up to 25 years.
Most of the defendants have been arraigned as of Wednesday, according to the district attorney’s office, but Robinson, Acosta and Rodriguez are currently being sought.