NEW YORK CITY — The man who orchestrated a six-year Lincoln Town Car theft ring in New York City has been arrested. Saleem Latif was taken into custody when police raided his livery company on Van Dam Street in Long Island City, capping a year-long investigation by the NYPD and Queens District Attorney's Office. Latif was arraigned on charges of enterprise corruption and criminal possession of stolen property in Queens Supreme Court.
When something wore out on one his Lincoln Town Cars, he skipped the parts store and sent someone out to steal a new one.
Detectives with the Police Department's Auto Crimes Division spent a year investigating Latif's operation, hiding cameras inside and outside the fleet's garage, which the authorities said served as a chop shop. NYC Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said he did not think much of the 200 Town Cars parked in Latif's lot, calling them "battered" and "clunkers."
Commissioner Kelly said a group of 11 people working with Latif stole about 70 cars a year for the past six years; about $1 million worth of auto parts were chopped from the cars, he said. He said Latif, of Jersey City, N.J., also ran a repair shop in which he would use stolen parts to fix the vehicles of other fleet owners.
The thieves checked identification stickers on the cars to ensure they weren't stealing from Latif's own fleet, Kelly said.
Latif, who owned the livery company and five others were charged with 148 counts of enterprise corruption, possession of stolen property and other crimes, police said. Most were arraigned in Queens and face up to 25 years in prison, if convicted.
The Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said. Latif had pleaded not guilty before a judge ordered him held on $200,000 bail.
Nine others were charged with selling their cars to the Queens chop shop, then reporting them stolen in order to collect insurance money, Kelly said. Police are still looking for one such man, John Franov, 36, of Astoria, whose sister, Susan, and brother, Bobby, were also arrested in the sting.
The crew allegedly also stole BMW, Jeep, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles, vans, and other non-taxi cars to be chopped and sold for parts, according to police.
Kelly said officers were tipped off by a confidential informant and investigated the chop-shop ring for 21 months before the arrests.
Latif is also under investigation by the Secret Service and the FBI for using stolen credit card numbers to purchase $100,000 in insurance for his livery cars, prosecutors said in court.