A.G. Schneiderman & NYPD Commissioner Kelly Announce 14 Arrests & Dismantling Of International Luxury-Vehicle Theft Ring

In ‘Operation EZ Steal,’ More Than $1 Million In Vehicles Stolen For Black Market Sale Across U.S. & Africa

Schneiderman: The Streets Of New York City Were Used As A Giant Showroom For Stealing Cars

NEW YORK - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, joined by New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, today announced the arrest of 14 individuals who operated a sophisticated international luxury-vehicle theft ring that stole dozens of vehicles valued at more than $1 million in New York City, and its surrounding areas.

Today, a series of early morning raids conducted by Attorney General Schneiderman's Organized Crime Task Force and the New York City Police Department’s Organized Crime Control Bureau Auto Crime Division capped a year-long investigation dubbed “Operation EZ Steal.” According to today’s indictment,  the illicit enterprise was comprised of 12 individuals including an international broker, local broker, steal men, a forged document specialist, a locksmith, key code brokers, and a Florida based Toyota dealership employee who covertly supplied the key codes needed to steal the vehicles. Two additional individuals were charged on a separate indictment for their alleged participation with members of the auto theft ring who were also marketing stolen vehicles in Chicago.

"This criminal enterprise used the streets of New York City as one giant showroom for stealing cars," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "The partnership between the Attorney General's Office and NYPD has led to the takedown of an international luxury vehicle theft ring that left innocent New Yorkers in the lurch. We have put the brakes on this criminal operation and will bring all of its members to justice."

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, "The outstanding work on this case is one of the reasons why the number of stolen cars in New York continues to plummet year after year. In 1990 there were 147,000 motor vehicles stolen in New York City and by last year the total had fallen to 9,334. That is a drop of about 95% over the last twenty years.”

The investigation utilized wiretaps and other surveillance to gather evidence against a Queens-based criminal ring that allegedly stole a large volume of vehicles from public streets, and in the Tri-State area. They specialized in stealing Toyota and Lexus automobiles and SUVs, including Toyota Venzas, Highlanders, Sequoias and Lexus RX350s, GX460s and GX470s, as well as other high end makes such as Acuras. Once in possession of the stolen vehicles, they allegedly created fraudulent documentation for the vehicles, and either shipped them from ports in New Jersey or Maryland in containers to Africa - Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria - disguising the containers’ contents by documenting false VIN numbers on the shipping manifests, or sold them on the black market in Chicago, Illinois.

In total, 14 individuals - including the international broker, steal crew boss, locksmith, key men, vehicle thieves, and other members of an alleged illicit crew - were arrested on felony charges filed in Queens County Supreme Court Part K-18. Twelve of them were charged in a 58-count indictment with, among other crimes, Enterprise Corruption, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, Forgery, Grand Larceny and Conspiracy. Enterprise Corruption alone carries a maximum penalty of up to 25 years in prison. Two other defendants were separately indicted for Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and Grand Larceny for their participation in this illicit ring.

According to the indictment, the operation’s international broker would place an order with the local broker, who would relay the order to the steal crew boss, specifying what was to be stolen by model, year, color and accessory package. Members of the steal crew would then “fill the order” by locating the specified car on the streets of New York City. The steal team entered targeted cars using keys obtained from a locksmith by the steal crew boss. Once inside the targeted car, the steal man would use a portable computer to program the key to sync to the vehicle’s unique code, enabling him to cleanly steal the vehicle without causing any damage. Forged document specialists created the paperwork used to disguise the stolen vehicles, including VIN plates and titles, for the vehicle.

The stolen vehicles would then be stored, or “laid up,” at locations in Queens (33-24 69thStreet & 22-12 27thStreet) and the Bronx (300 Jackson Avenue) until they were loaded, often multiple vehicles at a time, into containers to be transported from ports in either New Jersey or Maryland to ports in Africa. In order to facilitate the movement of the containers containing the stolen vehicles, the ring provided false VINs to shipping companies, thereby disguising the containers’ true contents. Those vehicles that were not shipped to Africa were sold to buyers in Chicago. 

According to the indictment, Isaac Akoukoh was the enterprise's international broker and primary exporter. He was responsible for selecting the cars to be stolen, coordinating with his local broker, Fofana Makan (a.k.a. "Foll"), and arranging for the stolen vehicles to be shipped and sold abroad for as much as $40,000 in cash for one car.

Eddie Ledesma (a.k.a. "Mike" and "Carlos Sanchez"), with the assistance of Daisy Diaz, headed up the steal crew, which consisted ofAlfranci Reyes (a.k.a. "Frankfurter"), Rony Ramos, and Junior Aybar ("Alberto") who, together with Ledesma and Diaz, stole and transported the vehicles. Franklin Rodriguez, Maximo Mendez, and Avery Springette, an employee of Central Florida Toyota, provided key codes to the ring, which made it possible for locksmith Carlos Lopez to create aftermarket keys that the steal crew used to steal the cars. Gustavo Valerio created forged Certificates of Title and VIN sticker that the ring used to give the stolen vehicles the appearance of legitimacy during transport.

The separate indictment alleges that Franklin Rodriguez and Eddie Ledesma obtained key codes, which he provided to locksmith Roman Dashevsky, who, in turn, created aftermarket keys used to steal cars that were transported to Chicago by steal crew member Joseph Tavares.

Those charged in the first indictment with Enterprise Corruption (class B felony) and other charges are:

  • Isaac Akuokoh, 52,  Frederick, MD                                         
  • Fofana Makan,57, Newark, NJ
  • Eddie Ledesma (Carlos Sanchez and Mike), 36, Brooklyn, NY
  • Daisy Diaz, 29, Brooklyn, NY
  • Rony Ramos, 25, Brooklyn, NY
  • Alfranci Reyes(Frankfurter), 38, Brooklyn, NY
  • Junior Aybar(Alberto), 32, Brooklyn, NY
  • Gustavo Valerio, (Tavi), 30, South Ozone Park, NY
  • Carlos Lopez, 34, Flushing, NY
  • Franklin Rodriguez (Sanders Smith), 31, Brooklyn, NY
  • Maximo Mendez (Cucho), 49, Kissimmee, FL
  • Avery Springette, 25, Orlando, FL                                    

Those charged in the second indictment with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (class D felony), and related charges are:

  • Eddie Ledesma (Carlos Sanchez and Mike), 36, Brooklyn, NY
  • Franklin Rodriguez (Sanders Smith), 31, Brooklyn, NY
  • Joseph Tavares(Gante), 26, Brooklyn, NY
  • Roman Dashevsky, 53, Brooklyn, NY               

The charges are the result of a 12-month joint investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and the New York City Police Department’s Organized Crime Control Bureau Auto Crime Division, with the assistance of the New York City Police Department's Border Enforcement Security Task Force, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, Illinois State Police and City of Frederick, Maryland Police Department.

Attorney General Schneiderman thanked these agencies for their partnership in the investigation.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The investigation was conducted by New York City Police Department Detectives Keith Mushorn and Guido Trivino of the NYPD Auto Crime Division, under the supervision of Sergeant Sam Melisi and Lieutenant Christopher Willis and the overall supervision of Inspector Joseph Kenney and Organized Crime Control Chief Anthony Izzo, and OCTF Investigator Jose Rojas under the supervision of OCTF Deputy Chief Eugene Black.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Attorney General Tarek Rahman, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Nancy Hoppock.

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