Tuesday, May 5, 2009

9 in Queens, Including Educator, Charged with Cutting Holes in Fences, Driving Off with Luxury Cars by Nicole Bode and Larry McShane - NY Daily News

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A middle school assistant principal was among nine arrested for stealing luxury SUVs, officials said. Above, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Anderson/News

A nine-month probe dubbed "Operation Lockbox" produced nine arrests - including a Brooklyn middle school assistant principal, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

The car theft ring, focusing on BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Lincolns, made off with late-model SUVs worth more than $400,000.

The clever crooks' favorite target was the Recon Motors storage facility in Whitestone, where they easily dodged security to drive SUVs off the lot like buyers taking a late-night test drive, officials said.

Members of the ring used wire cutters to slice an enormous hole in the chain-link fence farthest away from the front gate security booth and then cruised into the night, authorities said.

The facility was not equipped with security cameras, and the thieves drove the cars through the parking lot of an adjoining business.

"They saw a weakness, and they exploited it," said Deputy Inspector Charles Talamo, head of the NYPD Auto Crimes Division.

In other cases, the thieves actually took the luxury vehicles for test drives and stole the dealer's keys - returning later to drive away with the SUVs.

Brown said the thieves "leisurely window-shopped" at nine dealerships in Queens, Brooklyn and on Long Island for the exact makes and models they wanted. The crew would create new VIN numbers for the vehicles before resale.

The arrests were the result of a joint NYPD-Queens DA probe. Talamo said the police were sometimes aware of the thefts before the dealerships.

The ring's accused mastermind, 54-year-old Melvin Pinckney of Brooklyn, was ordered held on $100,000 bail on a variety of charges.

He and co-conspirators David Jimenez, 40, and Alexander Gil, 34, both of Brooklyn, each face up to 15 years in prison.

Lisle Jackson, 54, was reassigned from his job at Middle School 61 in Brooklyn after he was released without bail. The 12-year veteran of the New York schools planned to supplement his $96,405 annual salary by re-selling the stolen SUVs to new buyers, officials said.