Police busted a crew of drive-by thieves who stole cellphones from unsuspecting victims, then used the devices to clean out their bank accounts, NYPD brass and Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday.
Law enforcement sources said the illegal enterprise hit victims in four of the five boroughs, with over half of the crimes taking place in Manhattan. The alleged ringleader — identified as Victor Parra, whom police said is a newly-arrived migrant from Venezuela — apparently send out a text on WhatsApp ordering other migrants to speed around the city on scooters and perform drive-by snatchings of phones, purses, and other valuables.
“The text will say: ‘I have money available, go get them.’ The crime wave begins with the scooter operators making $100 a day and with the actual phone snatch making between $300 to $600,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said. “The stolen phones are then brought back to Parra’s residence.”
Parra, who lives at 2970 Bronx Park East, apparently hired another individual to hack into the phones and gain access to the financial information and banking apps stored within.
“These apps are used to make illegal transactions and fraudulent purchases in the United States as well as South America. Once the victims’ accounts are empty, or holds are put on their transactions, Victor Parra will then ship the smartphones to Colombia to be reprogrammed,” Chief Kenny added.
Police brass say that these crimes not only damage people’s savings, but they also left victims seriously injured in some instances. The gang reportedly primarily targeted women and when snatching their belongings would end up dragging them across the street, leaving them with multiple injuries.
Some 62 people have suffered at the hands of this group, according to authorities.
Cops have cuffed 7 of the 14 alleged crew members they have identified. Parra, the ringleader, still remains on the lam but police believe he will be apprehended in short order. Those arrested have been charged with multiple counts of grand larceny.
Police Commissioner Edward Caban pointed out that while the crimes were committed by migrants, they do not necessarily represent the thousands of individuals who have surged into the Big Apple, yet he did state that criminals are criminals and must be held accountable.
“By no means do the individuals committing these crimes represent the vast number of people coming to New York to build a better life. But they are nonetheless preying on New Yorkers and making our city less safe,” Caban said.
Caban also spoke on the challenges of investigating migrant criminals due to the lack of history in the country.
“They’re essentially ghost criminals. No criminal history, no photos, no cell phone, no social media, no photos. Sometimes we are even unclear on a name or date of birth,” Caban said.