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Post date: August 29 2003

Five Charged In Luxury Auto Theft Ring

New York State Attorney General Spitzer, New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly and State Superintendent of Insurance Gregory V. Serio today announced the arrest of five people who operated an auto theft ring in Queens that used a variety of methods to steal luxury vehicles, including using the personal information of people who had left the country.

Mihail Dutescu, 57, of Astoria, who allegedly headed the ring, was charged with multiple felony counts of Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. He offered to buyers that he could deliver a steady flow of vehicles to be shipped out of the country. He and the others were charged with the theft of vehicles with a combined value in excess of $500,000. The stolen vehicles included a 2003 Hummer H-2 and a 2003 Mercedes Benz S500, each valued at approximately $100,000.

The defendants were charged with stealing vehicles in a variety of ways. Some were stolen off the street. Some were given up by their original owners who no longer wanted to keep up their payments. In those instances, the owners then falsely reported to their insurance carriers that the vehicles had been stolen. In a third scenario, known as a "bust out," vehicles were leased or financed using personal identifying information of individuals who were leaving the country, so that no one could be found when the payments stopped.

Once the cars were stolen, it is alleged that Dutescu then delivered the vehicles to buyers, unbeknownst to him actually undercover police officers of the NYPD Auto Crime Unit. Dutescu instructed the undercover officer to either ship the vehicles out of the country under a false bill of lading that described the vehicles as "household goods," or to "tag" the vehicles (changing all of the Vehicle Identification Numbers) for return to the street.

"With invaluable support from the New York State Insurance Department, investigators from the NYPD Auto Crime Unit and my office were able to infiltrate this auto theft ring and apprehend these defendants," Spitzer said. "We will continue to work cooperatively to root out fraud and prosecute those who are determined to break the law."

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said: "Once again, our undercover detectives have done an outstanding job of uprooting an auto fraud crime ring. These individuals made large profits by stealing expensive vehicles, defrauding insurance companies, and using stolen identities to purchase new cars. Our detectives not only tracked and uncovered this expansive criminal organization, but also amassed enough evidence to ensure a strong prosecution. Thanks to their efforts, we have brought these criminals to justice."

"These individuals were making money by exporting vehicles to be sold abroad in addition to getting money fraudulently through submission of insurance claims to their insurer. These alleged crooks were stealing money from the insurance system that should only pay legitimate claims when honest New Yorkers need it," said Superintendent of Insurance Gregory V. Serio. "This case began as a stolen vehicle case for the NYPD but because we are now working together, we were able to cross-check information which revealed that these criminals were also ripping off insurance companies. The Department through its collaborative work with the NYPD and the Attorney General's office is committed to fighting fraud with the full force of the law."

Also arrested were Flora Sakellis, 46, of Astoria; Hariclia Rahimi, 31, of Astoria; Aston Lawson, 37, of Roosevelt Island; and Demetrius Koronis, 44, of Jackson Heights.

Lawson, Sakellis and Rahimi are each charged with Grand Larceny and Insurance Fraud for giving their vehicles, a 1999 Mercedes Benz ML430, a 2001 BMW X-5, and a 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, respectively, to members of the theft ring and subsequently filing fraudulent insurance claims for the theft of those vehicles. Koronis is charged with Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, arising from his attempt to sell an undercover officer a 2003 Cadillac Escalade with knowledge that the vehicle was obtained by "busting out" the credit of an individual who subsequently left the country.

Defendants Dutescu, Koronis, Sakellis each face up to fifteen years in prison if convicted of the top charges in the felony complaints, and defendants Rahimi and Lawson each face up to seven years in prison if convicted of the top charges in the felony complaints.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General John Harford of the Auto Insurance Fraud Unit, Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, under the supervision of Unit Chief Steve Nachman, and Investigators Angel Laporte and Richard Smith, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Investigator James Conway and Supervising Investigator Frank Orlando, and investigators from the NYPD's Auto Crime Division, under the supervision under the supervision of Deputy Inspector Howard Lawrence and Detective Michael Dorto."