14 Indicted In Theft Of Luxury Vehicles
Friday, June 8, 2007
A Prince George's County grand jury indicted 14 people yesterday on multiple counts of counterfeiting, forgery and theft in connection with what authorities say was a sophisticated auto theft ring that specialized in stealing luxury cars across the Washington area.
A 2001 Jaguar, a 2004 Range Rover, a 2002 Corvette and a new Mercedes S500 are only a few of the high-end cars and sport-utility vehicles allegedly stolen by the ring. In all, the group has been charged with stealing 18 vehicles valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from homes and car dealerships, then selling them to allegedly unsuspecting buyers.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said yesterday that the alleged band of thieves is believed to be linked to the theft of as many as 100 vehicles in an elaborate scheme that spanned Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia.
"It's clearly a sophisticated operation," Ivey said. "They had a very clear understanding of how the process works and how to subvert it."
The grand jury handed down 23 indictments against the 14, charging each defendant with multiple counts of theft, forgery and counterfeiting. Each count carries a sentence of up to 10 years.
Based largely in Prince George's, which in recent years has ranked among the top 10 car-theft hot spots in the nation, members of the alleged auto theft ring used a variant of a method investigators said has become increasingly common across the country, authorities said. Called "car cloning," the method involves thieves typically stealing new or nearly new high-end cars, then finding a car that is the exact same make, model and color and writing down that vehicle's identification number, often found on the dashboard.
They duplicate the "clean" vehicle's identification number tag and swap it for the old tag in the stolen vehicle. The result: two cars with the same identification number, said Ryan Toole, acting chief of the FBI's major theft unit.
Authorities would not say yesterday whether the Prince George's ring used the exact "cloning" method, saying only that the vehicle identification numbers on the stolen cars had been altered.
Prince George's police Maj. Russell San Felice, a member of the team of regional investigators that helped track the thefts, said the alleged Prince George's auto theft ring physically altered the numbers, then dummied up counterfeit title applications and certificates of salvage, falsely indicating that the vehicles had been bought at county police auctions.
County police caught one person in a stolen Corvette during a routine traffic stop about 18 months ago and subsequently uncovered a wide-ranging operation, San Felice said.
In several cases, the group forged the signature of a Maryland state trooper on a salvage certificate title, then presented it to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, authorities said. After passing the car to one or two straw buyers, the ring would sell it to a buyer eager to buy a Mercedes or a Range Rover for a fraction of its real value, they said.
Prosecutors said Francis Kamara, a key member of the alleged ring, appeared to be intimately familiar with how to bilk the state's vehicle titling system. Ivey said Kamara, a used-car dealer who was fatally shot on Dec. 24, 2005, on the lot he owned in Northeast Washington, was linked to at least 15 stolen vehicles.
The killing of Kamara, 38, of Hyattsville was initially believed to be a botched robbery attempt. Authorities said yesterday they do not know whether his death instead might be linked to his alleged involvement in the car-theft ring.
Indicted yesterday were Stanley Askew of Forestville; Andre Edwards, no address available; Tyrone Sharpe of Laurel; Yolanda Sharpe of District Heights; Nathan Sharpe of District Heights; Stephanie Sharpe of District Heights; Sean D. Bryant of Capitol Heights; Quantez Minor of Greenbelt; Prince Zankli of Silver Spring; Kendra Carter of District Heights; Timothy Mooton of Beltsville; William Escoe of Silver Spring; Stacy Kendall, no address available; and Christina Booker of Temple Hills.
Several of the stolen cars have been returned to their owners, but others are missing and investigators believe a few may have been sent out of the country.
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.