Boardman Local School District Security Supervisor, Ptl. Paul Poulos, of the Boardman Police Department, has issued a warning to motorists who leave their cars in parking lots to be aware they could be being stalked by an organized gang of identity thieves who operate throughout the United States.
“Boardman police officers working in conjunction with agencies from multiple cities and states have identified several members of a larger group of suspects known as the ‘Felony Lane Gang.’ These individuals are serious identity fraud/theft perpetrators that harvest their information through breaking into automobiles,” Poulos informed staffers in the local school district, noting the gang often targets school parking lots.
“We know they have struck in the Boardman YMCA parking lot (on McClurg Rd.), as well as the Boardman Township Park in the last six months,” Poulos said.
The gang often targets vehicles that have purses or other bags visible,” Poulos warned.
Last June after several reported car break-ins in Boardman Park, authorities learned identities stolen here were eventually used in New York City to cash stolen checks.
Police sources also believe the gang staged several car break-ins on Jan. 4 at Boardman Park, as well as the D.D. and Velma Davis Family YMCA.
Again, identities stolen in those break-ins have been traced to other cities, including Cleveland.
“Arrests were made in the Cleveland area of known members, and when caught, they were in possession of items from our Boardman victims,” Officer Poulos said.
“It appears, based on very recent incidents in Cleveland and other areas, that they are finding success in school parking lots, with a particular effort to target staff parking lots,” Poulos said.
The officer described the gang’s primary mode of operation as finding vehicles that are unlocked, or locked that have purses and other bags visible. Primarily they look for adult female identification.
“They will break auto glass to get to a bag or purse. Additionally, they have used observation vehicles to watch over their ‘lieutenants’ who actually do the scouting and breaking-in of the vehicles,” Poulos said. Authorities have labeled the theft ‘grab and dash’ crimes.
According to the officer, there has been at least one incident where ‘lieutenants’ engaged responding police officers with gunfire.
Officer Poulos warns the public not to approach any suspects if someone sees their vehicle being broken into.
“Call 9-1-1 immediately,” the officer advised.
Law enforcement officials say the Felony Lane Gang had it origins in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and began to get national attention in 2013. One local law enforcement official said the gang perhaps operated here as early as 2013.
Today the gang is believed to be operating in at least 34 states with upwards of 100 ‘platoons’ organized to stage car break-ins and identity thefts. The gang frequently uses drug-addicted women to cash stolen checks.
How It Works
In 2013, a description of the gang was provided in a Columbia, South Carolina report.
“The male ring leaders of the group are mainly from the Ft. Lauderdale and Miami areas. They recruit females who are responsible for cashing stolen checks for a small percentage of the profits, which is normally 10 per cent. Many of the females have past convictions of prostitution.
“As the group arrives in the targeted area, the men immediately start breaking into cars looking for pocket books, checks, drivers licenses and credit cards. They target vehicles at health clubs, tanning salons, amusement parks, and sporting events, specifically looking for vehicles where wallets, purses and shopping bags are left in plain site.
“Once the men have broken into numerous vehicles, they start molding the female gang members to look like the stolen victim’s identity; coloring their hair, purchasing wigs, and wearing large sun glasses.
“The gang members then transport the females to the local banks where they will present the victim’s driver’s license and a stolen second party check.”
Fraud investigators say the gang will use the farthest lane out in the drive thru, which is what they now call the ‘felony lane.’
“If you’re right there, close to the teller in the first lane, the teller might be able to tell you have a wig on or you don’t match the identification. But if you’re in that far lane, and you’ve got more cars in between you, you might not pay as much attention,” one law enforcement official said.
Investigators believe the gang can generating over $12,000 a day while cashing stolen checks.
“You’re looking at car break-ins that most would look at as not a serious crime but as you start to look at and calculate the amount of money, the amount of damages people have suffered, it does start to effect the quality of life,” the law enforcement official said.
The Felony Lane Gang has reportedly drawn attention from law enforcement officials across the country, including the FBI. A task force involving upwards of 92 agencies, as well as the FBI and financial institutions has been formed. In an effort to track movements of its various platoons, special computer software has been designed to track the crimes.
Key gang members travel across the country, do not live in the areas where crimes are committed, and are unconnected to their mainly female recruits. That means they are not generally known to local agencies.
Investigators believe the Felony Lane Gang is responsible for the theft of tens of millions of dollars.
Around The Country
Last Thurs., Jan. 29, police in Macedonia, Oh. arrested two women accused of be part of the Felony Lane Gang. They are each being held on $100,000 bail.
Angelica Varela, 19, of Milwaukee, Wis., and Patricia Fromen, 46, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla, face charges of stealing dozens of identities in Ohio and cashing thousands of dollars in checks stolen from cars.
“These people...averaged about $20,000 per day on the fraudulent checks,” Macedonia police Sgt. Ken Turley said.
Police departments around the state are trying to determine if there is a link between these most recent arrests and a rash of stolen purses from unlocked cars in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Toledo, Boardman Township and Findley.
Apr. 28, 2012
PLATT COUNTY, MISSOURI---A gang from Florida referred to as the Felony Lane Gang was held responsible in numerous thefts from automobiles and forgeries occurring throughout the Midwest, as well as other parts of the country
In Platte County, prosecutors charged Laura Jane Smith, 37, with forgery linked to this group that was allegedly committing similar offenses of forgery in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana. Smith’s last known address was located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was held in jail on a $10,000 bond.
Oct. 08, 2013
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA---Eight members of the so-called Felony Lane Gang were been arrested.
Mar. 7, 2014
HOUSTON, TEXAS---Houston police said five members of the so-called Felony Lane Gang werere charged with engaging in organized criminal activity. Police said following the arrests, a search of the group’s motel room turned up various forms of personal information belonging to between 10 and 49 different people. Detectives said they also found disguises they believe were used when trying to cash stolen checks.
Apr 24, 2014
MERRIMACK, NEW HAMPSHIRE---Police in New Hampshire warn the public about the highly organized Felony Lane Gang getting away with millions of dollars in thefts.
Jan. 5, 2015
WESTFIELD, INDIANA---A gang of thieves with roots in Florida has been hitting victims across the country, including dozens of people in Westfield, Indiana. The so-called Felony Lane Gang has sparked copycat criminals all over the United States.