Florida law enforcement officials arrested 23 people, with four others in the works, for allegedly being part of a complex auto theft ring centered on the illegal acquisition and sale of luxury vehicles.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced the arrests on Monday, which were part of a five-year investigation called “Operation Gone in 60 Days.”
“Organized theft has no place in Florida, and I am grateful for the collaborative efforts by our law enforcement partners and my statewide prosecutors in shutting down this massive car theft ring,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said. “These criminals thought they could evade the law, and now they will answer for their crimes.”
The investigation began in 2018, after agents became aware that Florida Commercial Driver Licenses (CDLs) were being issued illegally to people who did not complete the required training.
Investigators uncovered a criminal organization that allegedly issued fraudulent vehicle identification numbers (VINs) for high-end vehicles like Porsche, Land Rover and Maserati, which were acquired through theft.
The suspects would then sell the vehicles below market value, assign fraudulent tags and other crimes.
The vehicles would be acquired with the help of couriers, fake names and phony payments to car dealerships that would not find out they were defrauded until after the vehicles drove off the lot, the FDLE said in a press release.
The suspects also allegedly rented vehicles, filed false police reports stating the vehicles were stolen and kept the cars.
Investigators claim the organization’s leader generated counterfeit VINs that were then attached to the vehicles to cover up the theft.
One of the suspects, investigators said, worked at a Miami-based dealership and issued temporary tags, or transferred legitimate tags to the stolen vehicles.
Other suspects are accused of claiming to sell auto insurance to customers who were buying the stolen vehicles. The customers would then get a policy that investigators said would quickly lapse as the suspects kept the payments.
“The members of this criminal organization orchestrated a multi-stage scheme to defraud potential car customers at every step of the way, selling stolen vehicles with fraudulent VINs, illegally sourced license plates, and dummy insurance policies,” FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass said. “This complex criminal enterprise victimized citizens and businesses across the state, but the suspects’ days of profiting off the misery of hard-working Floridians is at an end.”
The suspects charged in connection to the case include Raismel Cruz, 38, of Tampa; Norisa Janelle Cruz, 41, of Tampa; Yassiel Rosado-Gonzalez, 34, of Tampa; Aleny Margarita Lopez, 30, of Tampa; Lilian Yennifer Mesa-Cruz, 29, of Mulberry; Oney Tomas-Gamboa, 39, of Tampa; Mariangel Lizardo-Peraza, 29, of Miami Gardens; Roberto Marrero-Cisnero, 66, of Miami; Fernando Rodriguez, 46, of Valrico; Ernesto Rodriguez, 51, of Valrico; Luis Enrique Rios-Fonseca, 30, of Tampa; Lazaro Velazquez-Gomez, 27, of Spring Hill; Leandro Perez-Pulido, 47, of Plant City; Jennifer Hernandez-Torres, 38, of Plant City; Israel Alain Vasquez-Gomez, 53, of Tampa; Abdiel Hernandez-Noda, 47, of Tampa; Jorge Manuel Gonzalez-Aris, 33, of Miami; Dolnnis Quesada-Nuñez, 33, of Tampa; Kiara Cherise Bankston, 24, of Tampa; Adrian Hernandez-Hernandez, 45, of Tampa; Jose Angel Oro, 56, of Tampa; Juan Santa Cruz Ortiz, 31, of Tampa; and Alberto J. Sandoval-Mejia, 37, of Cape Coral.
Charges vary for each suspect, and include racketeering, grand theft of a motor vehicle, dealing in stolen property, money laundering and possession of a motor vehicle with an altered VIN.
FDLE officials added that two additional suspects have active arrest warrants and two have affidavits with the court.