St. Lucie County Sheriff Mascara announces results of "Operation Bag Boy" investigation into stolen vehicles with phony titles, Vehicle Identification Numbers and titles
The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office has capped an 18-month investigation into stolen cars with phony identification documents with the recovery of 30 vehicles throughout the State of Florida with a combined value of almost $760,000, according to Sheriff Ken J. Mascara.
A total of 48 vehicles were identified as stolen, of which 30 have been recovered, Sheriff Mascara said. Also, two men have been arrested and a third is being sought in connection with the case.
Here are the remarks of Sheriff Mascara at today's news conference, followed by a fact sheet on Operation Bag Boy:
Remarks by Sheriff Ken J. Mascara, September 13, 2010
Today, I want to tell you about a case investigated by the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office called "Operation Bag Boy." It got its name because one of the people we arrested, Luis Ramirez, was running a grocery store where he was dealing stolen cars.
This complicated case involved a year-and-a-half of work by two of our detectives, who put in more than 500 hours on the case. It led to the identification of 48 stolen cars throughout Florida and the recovery of 30 cars worth almost $760,000.
This case began because a St. Lucie County Deputy Sheriff, Lenny Davis, noticed that the Vehicle Identification Number plate, the "VIN plate," on a 2007 Ford F350 pickup truck, looked suspicious. Luis Omar Ramirez in November 2008 was trying to register the vehicle. Ramirez wanted the out-of-state car to be titled in Florida. That required a VIN verification by law enforcement.
Ramirez owned Price Choice Food Market, at 2911 Okeechobee Road, Fort Pierce. He said someone named "Dave" sold him the truck at the store for about half what it was worth, according to the "Blue Book," which sets the value of used vehicles.
Our auto theft detectives determined from the phony VIN plate and Federal Inspection Sticker that the truck was stolen, and we seized the vehicle.
In March 2009, a sergeant with the Florida Highway Patrol and an agent of the National Insurance Crime Bureau discovered another Ford F250 pickup truck with a phony VIN plate and Federal Inspection Sticker. The National Insurance Crime Bureau is the investigative arm of the insurance industry.
That vehicle also was sold from the food store owned by Ramirez and had been reported stolen in New york City.
Then those two investigators got a lead on another Ford F250 pickup truck at a Fort Pierce address that had a phony North Carolina title before it was sold in Fort Pierce.
The investigators share their findings with our detectives, and a pattern began to emerge:
Vehicles stolen in New York City were turning up in Florida with phony North Carolina or New York state titles. In Florida, the vehicles were being sold at prices far lower than their actual value.
Sheriff's detectives then requested 80,000 records of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles on vehicles registred in Florida between January 2008 and "April 2009 using either a North Carolina or New York title as the previous state of records.
They hand-sifted those records and came up with about 6,000 likely stolen vehicles judging by recent model years, type of vehicles and personally owned vehicles. Sheriff's detectives sent those records to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
This led to the identification of 48 stolen vehicles all over the State of Florida.
So far, 30 have been recovered, including 4 recovered in St. Lucie County.
This tedious, backbreaking, time consuming work is what real investigations are made of.
In the case of Operation Bag Boy, the results justified the hard work.
Here is a fact sheet on Operation Bag Boy:
Fact Sheet: Operation Bag Boy, September 13, 2010 - St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office
The lead agency is the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office's Auto Theft Unit of the Criminal Investigations Division, with the participation of the Florida Highway Patrol and National Insurance Crime Bureau (nicb.org), the investigative arm of the insurance industry. Numerous other Florida law enforcement agencies participated. They are listed below.
Summary: Detectives spent more than 500 hours on the case, sifting 80,000 vehicle records, resulting in the identification of 48 stolen vehicles throughout Florida, and the recovery of 30 vehicles valued at almost $760,000, with two persons arrested.
Goals of the operation:
- Identify and recover stolen vehicles with false Vehicle Identification Numbers ("VIN numbers") and false federal identification stickers registered in Florida;
- Arrest those responsible; and
- Deter future thefts.
What's "cloning" a vehicle? Putting a false VIN number on a stolen vehicle is known as "cloning." Criminals clone a vehicle's VIN number to conceal the vehicle's true identity. With a false VIN number, a false federal identification sticker and a phony title, a criminal attempts to register the vehicle with the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, then sells the stolen car and pockets the sale price.
Who are the victims of cloning? The victims are the owners of the stolen vehicles, the purchasers who didn't know they had bought stolen cars, and the insurance industry which had to pay the claims for thefts.
Agencies that assisted are: New York City Police Department, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Seminole County Sheriff's Office, Orange County Sheriff's Office, Volusia County Sheriff's Office, Miami-Dade County Sheriff's Office, Broward County Sheriff's Office, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Duval County Sheriff's Office, Monroe County Sheriff's Office, Lee County Sheriff's Office, Orlando Police Department, Apopka Police Department and the Palm Bay Police Department.
The operation began in March 2009 with an investigation by the Auto Theft Unit of the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office's Criminal Investigations Division in March 2009, into vehicles with false ("cloned") Vehicle Identification Numbers ("VIN numbers.") The investigation revealed that many of these vehicles (cars and pickup trucks) had been stolen in New York City. The cloned VIN numbers were designed to conceal the true identities of the stolen vehicles. The Florida Highway Patrol and NICB joined the investigation with additional cases of cloned vehicles.
On July 22, detectives around the state began seizing the cloned vehicles. So far, Operation Bag Boy has identified 48 cloned vehicles throughout the State of Florida, of which detectives have recovered 30. Four were recovered in St. Lucie County. One of those four has been returned to an insurance company.
There have been two persons arrested. Both are confined at the St. Lucie County jail.
Those arrested and their charges are:
- Luis Ramirez, DOB 11/10/1976 (33 YOA), of Royal Palm Beach, charged with one count of organized fraud of $50,000 or more (1st degree felony), two counts of filing false ownership statements to obtain vehicle titles (3rd degree felony), and one count of grand theft of a motor vehicle (3rd degree felony.) His bond is $130,000.
- Salvador Leon, DOB 7/24/79 (21 YOA), of 1023 Tortugas Ave., Fort Pierce, charged with one count of of filing false ownership statements to obtain a vehicle title (3rd degree felony.) His bond is $15,000.
A third suspect, Adan Almonte, of Fort Pierce, is wanted on four felony charges with a total bond of $250,000.
The investigation is continuing.
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