Five men have been arrested in connection with what law enforcement officials allege is a stolen car ring that may be responsible for the dramatic rise in stolen autos in the Washington area this year, including the theft of 200 cars in the last four months, the FBI and D.C. police said yesterday.
Officials said the ring operated primarily in the District and Northern Virginia and targeted mostly late model General Motors vehicles. Although some of the more than 15 stolen cars the group has been directly tied to were resold or stripped of parts for profit, the group generally stole the cars for joy rides, the officials said, adding that as many as nine cars were sometimes stolen in one night.
They said the group concentrated on General Motors cars because they had devised a special technique for stealing that company's models, and in each case the technique caused between $500 and $1,000 damage to the automobile, the officials said.
"We usually don't target joy riders" for arrest, an FBI spokesman said, "but the problem became so aggravated" that a special joint investigation was begun three months ago by the FBI, D.C. police and Arlington County police, who were assisted by other local police departments in Virginia and Maryland.
The arrests came after an undercover FBI agent made contact with the group and purchased a number of stolen cars from the ring, the spokesman said.
Evidence was presented to a U.S. District Court grand jury in the District, which last week returned a 51-count indictment against four persons charging them with conspiracy, interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. The four were identified by the FBI as Lafonzo Leonard Williams, 18, of 2529 Sayles Place SE; Willard Tony Finch, 21, of 2525 Sayles Place SE; James Andrew Brown, 18, of 1524 U St. SE; and Elmer Washington, 22, of 2526 Sheridan Rd. SE.
A fifth suspect, Ronald Eugene Jones, 19, of 3710 S. Kemper Rd., Arlington, has been indicted by a grand jury in U.S. District Court in Arlington on the same charges, an FBI spokesman said.
Officials said the ring is believed responsible for the theft of more than 200 cars with a value as high as $1.3 million in the city and its suburbs.
"Stolen cars statistics just went out of sight over the last year," said David Binney, assistant special agent in charge of the bureau's Washington field office. "They [the ring] were definitely part of the overall impact," he said.
The problem was especially noticeable in the city's 1st and 7th Police Districts and in Arlington County during the last few months, Binney said.
Seventy-two cars were stolen in the 1st District in September, a 49 percent increase over September 1984, and 123 were stolen in October, an 84 percent increase over the previous October, according to D.C. police. They said the 7th District experienced increases of 129 percent and 98 percent in the same months, while Arlington police said they posted increases of 62 and 59 percent in September and October.