NEW YORK --- New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced the shutting down of a Bronx-based crime ring that allegedly stole and exported millions of dollars worth of construction equipment and luxury vehicles. Twelve people were arrested.
A series of early-morning raids capped a year-long investigation dubbed "Operation Tag Sail." The raids were conducted by Attorney General Cuomo's Organized Crime Task Force and the auto crime division of NYPD's Organized Crime Control Bureau.
The investigation focused on a Bronx-based criminal ring that allegedly stole nearly 50 vehicles from construction sites, public streets, car dealerships and parking garages. The operation allegedly specialized in stealing high-end luxury automobiles, including Hummers and Porsches, and heavy equipment such as Caterpillar Excavators and other makes, for sale on the black market in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and the Dominican Republic, police said in a statement.
In total, 12 individuals -- including a suspected boss, under-boss, forgers, vehicle thieves, and other members of an alleged illicit crew -- were arrested on felony charges filed in Bronx County, police said. Of them, 10 were charged in a 100-count indictment with, among other crimes, enterprise corruption, forgery, criminal possession of stolen property, forgery of vehicle identification number, grand larceny, and conspiracy. Enterprise corruption alone carries a maximum penalty of up to 25 years in prison. The other two defendants were separately indicted for criminal possession of stolen property and grand larceny.
"This cast of characters is alleged to have operated a highly sophisticated, international criminal enterprise that preyed on New York construction businesses and the general public for millions of dollars," said Cuomo. "These individuals allegedly worked in concert to line their own pockets at the expense of the public and honest business owners. Through sound police work and cooperative law enforcement, we were able to gather the evidence needed to bring the charges announced today."
The investigation used wiretaps and other surveillance to gather evidence on the Bronx-based operation. According to the charges, the ring stole nearly 50 vehicles from construction sites, public streets, car dealerships, and parking garages. Generally, once an automobile or truck was stolen, the defendants allegedly would 'wash' the vehicle's title clean by checking the vehicle identification number (VIN) of a similar make and model, using this information to put a new VIN plate and new forged stickers on the stolen vehicle, creating a title made up to match the fake VIN, and then re-registering the vehicle out-of-state in states that could not "read" the information bar code on the forged titles. If they could, they would have easily discovered the altered information.
The defendants navigated the stolen vehicles through the streets and onto the ports with ease under the cloak of forged VINs and documents concealing the vehicles' true identity.
"Some people try to smuggle jewels out of the country," said Police Commissioner Kelly. "These individuals tried to sneak off with Caterpillars and Hummers. What they lacked in finesse they tried to compensate with audacity. But it made no difference. They met with the same end -- arrest -- thanks to the outstanding work of NYPD auto crime detectives and their partners in the Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force."
The indictment charges that on July 22, 2008, some of the defendants brazenly drove a Caterpillar Excavator right off a construction site in Yonkers and down the New York State Thruway. Although they plowed into an overpass, causing a multi-car crash, they just kept going.
According to the indictment, Luis Torres Gonzalez (a.k.a. "Sanki") was the boss of the enterprise. He was allegedly responsible for creating or acquiring forged documents and forged VINs. Without these forgeries, the enterprise would not exist, police said. As the boss, he was also allegedly involved in stealing vehicles for resale.
Police said the alleged under-boss of the enterprise, Reynaldo Estrella (a.k.a. "Ray"), assisted Gonzalez in all phases of the operation, and dealt primarily with coordinating the theft and resale of vehicles, and the forged paperwork and VINS. Yaneris Caseris is allegedly the "forged document coordinator" for the enterprise. Her duties allegedly included the distribution of forged documents created and acquired by Luis Torres Gonzalez and Reynaldo Estrella, and collection of the illegal proceeds from the sale of those documents.
Luis Ernie Muriel (a.k.a. "Ivan"), Alfonso Tejada, Nestali Garcia Rosa (a.k.a. "Junior"), Noel S. Gonzalez (a.k.a. "Joaquin"), Jose L. Sanchez , and an individual known as Hansel (a.k.a. "Grena") were allegedly thieves or "steal men," who obtained and transported stolen heavy equipment. Higinio M. Mercedes (a.k.a. "Biembo") and Kenneth Estrella (a.k.a. "Kenny") were also allegedly thieves who focused on the theft of motor vehicles and, along with others, obtained and transported vehicles for tagging and resale.
Luis Torres Gonzalez, Mercedes, and an individual known as "Toco," allegedly were "taggers." Toco owns a storefront, also called "Toco," where the stolen vehicles were allegedly taken and tagged.
In addition, Muriel, Rosa, and Noel S. Gonzalez allegedly participated with Luis Torres Gonzalez and Reynaldo Estrella in coordinating the export of stolen vehicles and equipment to the Dominican Republic.
Alton Young (a.k.a "Fat Ray") and Jean Carlos Almontes, indicted separately for possession of stolen property and grand larceny, were also allegedly "steal men" who focused on the theft of motor vehicles and, along with others, obtained and transported vehicles for tagging and resale.
The charges are the result of a 12-month joint undercover investigation by the New York City Police Department's Organized Crime Control Bureau Auto Crime Division and the New York State Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, with the assistance of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The investigation was conducted by New York City Police Department Detective Jeffrey Lauria of the NYPD Auto Crime Division, under the supervision of Sgt. John Schwartz and Lt. Gene Borelli and the overall supervision of Deputy Inspector Charles Talamo and Organized Crime Control Chief Anthony Izzo.
The cases are being prosecuted by deputy attorneys general Michael Bongiorno and Laura Kirschstein, under the supervision of First Assistant Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Robin L. Baker.
During the course of this investigation, the following agencies contributed: Broward County, Florida Sheriff's Office Auto Theft Unit, Connecticut State Police Auto Theft Unit, New York State Police Auto Unit, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Attorney General Office, New York State Attorney General Office's Tech Unit, New York Police Department's Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU), Philadelphia Auto Theft Unit, Harrison, New Jersey Police Department, Kearny, New Jersey Police Department, Passaic County , New Jersey Sheriff's Office, Woodbridge, New Jersey Police Department, United States Customs and Border Protection Agencies in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas Department of Public Safety, Yonkers Police Department, National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)