Van Thieves Cashing In

Allegedly Stole, Sold Rides As Scrap

Police slammed the brakes on a stolen auto operation in Queens last Wednesday, Sept. 12, as three individuals were arrested for allegedly working together to swipe 32 vehicles off local streets-and then selling them to an Ozone Park facility as scrap metal, law enforcement sources said.

Prosecutors identified the suspects as Cypress Hills residents Jose Montenegro, 27, and Jennifer Avila, 26, both of Autumn Avenue; and Woodhaven’s Pedro Lopez, 20, of Jamaica Avenue.

Reportedly, Avila, Lopez and Montenegro stole the vehicles-most of which were Ford Econoline vans-parked on streets in Queens between April and August. Law enforcement sources said they then brought the hot wheels to a scrap yard at an undisclosed location in Ozone Park, selling them for $600 to $700 each.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said the perpetrators “took advantage of a quirk in the law in which individuals can dispose of vehicles that are eight years or older without proof of title.” The transactions were completed, he noted, by showing a driver’s license and filling out a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) form “stating that they are the delivery agent or the vehicle’s owner.”

“They allegedly walked away with hundreds of dollars for each vehicle that is crushed, leaving the true owners-many of whom depended on their cars for work-without wheels,” Brown added.

According to the charges, 11 of the 32 vehicles allegedly stolen by the three suspects were destroyed and reduced to scrap metal. The other automobiles were recovered by police before they were scheduled to be crushed, prosecutors added.

Avila, Lopez and Montenegro were variously booked on multiple counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, third-degree unauthorized use of a vehicle and falsifying business records.

All three suspects were arraigned last Thursday, Sept. 13, in Queens Criminal Court before Judge John Zoll, according to court records. Bail was set at $25,000 for Montenegro, $10,000 for Avila and $5,000 for Lopez. They are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 27.

Each suspect faces up to four years behind bars if convicted, Brown added.

Det. Rick Seifts and P.O. William Rein of the NYPD Auto Crimes Division conducted the investigation under the supervision of Sgt. Joseph Ricotta, Lt. Christopher Gately and Deputy Inspector Joseph Kenny. The division is supervised by Chief Anthony Izzo of the Organized Crime Contrul Bureau. Supervising Investigator Gerald Harrison of the DMV assisted with the probe.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Hana C. Kim of the D.A.’s Rackets Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Mary M. Lowenburg, chief of the Auto Crime and Insurance Fraud Unit, Gerard A. Brave, bureau chief, and Mark L. Katz, deputy bureau chief.

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