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Stolen car ring busted - 15 arrested

Talk about being taken for a ride.
The owner of a Long Island City-based livery cab fleet has been indicted - along with five others - on charges of profiting from a large-scale auto theft and dismantling ring allegedly responsible for stealing dozens of luxury automobiles over a 12-month period.
Nine other individuals are accused of participating in the scheme, including car owners who allegedly turned their vehicles over to the ring and then falsely reported their vehicles as stolen in order to fraudulently obtain insurance settlements.
“Here in Queens County, auto theft has long been a benchmark in measuring our effectiveness in combating crime,” said District Attorney Richard A. Brown. “In 1991, when I first took office, there were some 52,000 cars stolen in Queens County. Last year we were at less than 5,000 cars stolen - a decrease of more than 90 percent. As such, we remain committed to aggressively investigating and prosecuting such conduct. Those who make the mistake of setting up shop in Queens County face serious felony charges and prison sentences.”
The indictments follow a sweeping 21-month joint investigation by the New York City Police Department’s Auto Crime Division and the district attorney’s Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau.
Dubbed “Operation Caliente Cabs,” the investigation utilized court-authorized wiretaps, intensive surveillance and electronic tracking devices to bust the ring, which was allegedly run out of Caddy and Lincoln Corner, located at 52-01 Van Dam Street in Long Island City.
According to DA Brown, ring members - including Eduardo Aguayo of Woodside, Robert Franov of Astoria, Pedro Puello, Leo Vargas, and Johnny Morales of Ozone Park - would drive stolen vehicles, including Lincoln Town Cars, BMWs, Mercedes Benzs, Jeep Cherokees, Chrysler Town and Country cars and Ford and Dodge vans, from Queens, Atlantic City, NJ and elsewhere, to an illegal chop-shop, owned by Aguayo and Franov, where the vehicles were dismantled.
A majority of the parts were then allegedly supplied to Saleem Latif, the owner of a fleet of 200 livery cars. Latif would allegedly “order” specific parts to repair his vehicles, and the vehicle identification numbers (VINs) would be altered.
All 15 defendants have been variously charged with enterprise corruption, third- and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, illegal possession of a vehicle identification number, third degree insurance fraud, third degree auto stripping, and first degree offering a false instrument for filing, first degree falsifying business records and fifth-degree conspiracy.

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