Cops have slammed the brakes on an auto theft and stripping ring targeting vans parked across Queens.
Three people face conspiracy, grand larceny and additional charges for working together to steal Ford Econoline vans parked in East Elmhurst, Flushing, Jackson Heights, Kew Gardens, Little Neck and areas in Nassau County between July 2017 and February of this year. They then stripped the vehicles of various parts, including headlights, bumpers, tires, seats, radios and rooftops and sold them for cash.
On June 20, detectives arrested the ring leader, identified as Chukuweike Emeni (aka Emzie Snipes), 35, of Far Rockaway. He was ordered held on $210,000 bail at his arraignment, and faces up to seven years behind bars if convicted.
Emeni’s arrest came two weeks after a pair of alleged co-conspirators — Teyana Paul, 22, of Rosedale, and Mark Thomas, 24, of Amsterdam, New York — were arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on June 6 for their alleged roles in the scam. Thomas was ordered held on $50,000 bail, while Paul was released under supervision.
“The defendants in this case turned an illegal venture into a dedicated job,” Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said. “They lurked in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning, allegedly stealing vans, arranging meets to sell parts and even quoted prices — $100 for seats, $120 for radios. A long-term, detailed investigation uncovered this scheme that has now been shut down.”
Included among the vans stolen by the ring, prosecutors said, was Ford minibus that had been parked in the Samuel Field YMCA lot on Little Neck Parkway on Aug. 1, 2017. Police obtained security camera footage that showed Emeni allegedly stealing the van, which was found three weeks later parked on Horace Harding Expressway, with its front bumper and headlights missing.
Each of the stolen vans were found scavenged on the streets of Queens, with various parts missing, authorities said.
Members of the NYPD Criminal Enterprise Division and the Auto Crime Unit of the Major Case Squad cracked the case through the use of court-authorized eavesdropping. Brown said that the members heard numerous conversations in which Emeni allegedly offered to sell to prospective buyers seats at $100 a piece, a car battery for $70 and four tires for $350.
Detectives also linked the three suspects to the ring through cellphone records that placed the defendants in the areas where the vehicles had been stolen, and security camera footage from crime scenes.
Emeni and two others — Darnell Johnson, 29, of Queens and Nadine Paul, 29, of Rosedale — were additionally charged for their alleged roles in an insurance fraud scheme, Brown added. The suspects allegedly staged car crashes across the borough in order to collect cash from insurance claims for phony injuries.
“Every time a faked car crash insurance payment is doled out, everyone else pays, too — in higher premiums,” Brown said. “These kinds of plots to defraud will not be tolerated in Queens County.”