QUEENS, N.Y. — Police dismantled a stolen-car ring that specialized in ripping off Lincoln Town Cars for a livery cab service that needed spare parts for its 200 taxis.
The scheme, which involved the theft of about 70 cars in each of the last six years, was designed "to get a fleet of clunkers ready for the road," police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a news conference.
Authorities arrested 15 people, including fleet owner Saleem Latif, on enterprise corruption and other charges, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. Some of the defendants were car owners charged with giving their cars to the thieves so they could report the vehicles stolen and collect insurance proceeds.
Latif, 47, pleaded not guilty before a judge ordered him held on $200,000 bail. Defense attorney Steve Mahler, reached by telephone Thursday, called the bail excessive, especially since his client had known about the investigation for nearly a year and made no attempt to dodge investigators.
The New York Police Department launched the investigation nearly two years ago based on a tip from an informant. Using wire taps and hidden video camera surveillance, authorities allege they learned Latif was using a team of car thieves to steal Lincolns in good condition off the streets of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Nassau County, and New Jersey.
Since the ring's "principle client had so many cars of his own on the street, the thieves looked for the fleet's sticker to make sure they didn't steal one of Latif's," Kelly said.
The cars were taken to a chop shop, where they were dismantled for parts that the taxi service used to maintain its fleet, police said. Latif, who paid about $1 million a year for the stolen parts, also ran a repair shop where he used the parts to fix Lincolns from other car services, they said.
In July, the thieves stole a 1998 Lincoln Town Car owned by a Vietnam veteran from West Virginia who was visiting his daughter in Queens, police said. Investigators were watching when the car, which had license plates indicating the owner was an Army vet, arrived at the chop shop.
The officers had a tow truck take the car away before it could be dismantled and had it returned to the owner, Kelly said.
SOURCE: Newsday Inc.