Dozens arrested in $2.3 million car theft ring

Akim Lane

April 18, 2012 1:31:08 PM PDT
Law enforcement authorities are calling it 'Operation Wheels of Fortune,' but clearly this was no game.

State Police say Thompson BMW in Doylestown and Don Rosen Imports in Conshohocken were frequent targets of a sophisticated car theft ring.

Authorities say the suspects involved are part of a massive international theft ring that operated in the Philadelphia area, ultimately sending the cars to West Africa.

Police are in the process of rounding up more than two dozen suspects today, linked to $2.3-million worth of stolen vehicles.

Most of the vehicles, including SUVs, were ripped off by stealing keys from local car dealers, but also through violence and threats.

"With gun point robberies, home burglaries, and carjackings, which were also used to obtain the vehicles that foreign brokers and buyers were seeking," Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said.

State Police say the criminal organization was made up of mostly West African immigrants.

At the top of the chart was Mohamad Fornah of Philadelphia.

Police say this is how it worked: The street level thieves steal the vehicles then contact middlemen brokers like Akim Lane of Folsom, said to be one of the key players in the racket.

In the area around 61st and Lindbergh in Southwest Philadelphia, investigators say Lane would park the stolen vehicles on the streets so potential buyers could drive by and inspect them in sort of an illicit, open air, stolen car showroom.

Once the cars were purchased they were loaded into shipping containers and taken to the Newark, New Jersey port for shipment to West African destinations including Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.

"The cars that are brought over to West Africa to be sold are going to sell for about 20% to 30% more than they are in this country," Noonan said.

State Police and the Attorney General say the impact goes far beyond the car dealers and owners.

"As this area becomes a center for auto theft, everybody's car insurance goes up," Noonan said.

So far 11 of the 26 suspects are in custody including Akim Lane.

Suspects in the case were arrested in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.

Mohamad Fornah is already in federal custody.

The investigation continues.