According to Philly.com, an investigation commanded by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has led to charging 32 people last month who were involved in a massive, calculated auto-theft and insurance-fraud ring that has operated in the city of Philadelphia for years.
The investigation uncovered multiple layers and an intricate hierarchy in the scheme that began with 26-year-old Jihad Miller of Yeadon, PA and 37-year-old Preston Thomas of Philadelphia, PA at the head of the criminal organization. Miller and Thomas ran Cheap Auto, a business built on purchasing salvaged vehicles from online auctions at low-cost. VIN numbers were then removed and swapped onto other vehicles primarily stolen fromHertz, Enterprise, Avis, Dollar/Thrifty, etc. by recruits.
Prosecutors noted that Miller and Thomas, along with their co-conspirators, “also created or fraudulently obtained documentation, such as titles and registrations. Part of the scheme involved mechanics who illegally passed cars through ‘enhanced inspections,’ allowing the vehicles to hit the road despite carrying a mismatched VIN.”
These vehicles were then sold to unsuspecting consumers by a number of designated sellers, including Miller and Thomas. “While the salvaged VINs were typically purchased for less than $2,000, the stolen cars often sold for up to $20,000,” according to prosecutors.
District Attorney Seth Williams announced that the criminal enterprise resold approximately 45 stolen vehicles, costing rental company victims over $500,000 and even led to over $60,000 in fraudulent insurance claims. Furthermore, some of the unsuspecting consumers that purchased the stolen vehicles were forced to surrender them to authorities.
Assistant District Attorney Linda Montag described the scheme as “a detailed, intricate criminal organization with many moving parts, allowing coconspirators to generate tens of thousands of dollars in profits.”
Miller and Thomas have each been charged with dozens of counts to include conspiracy, belonging to a corrupt organization, theft, etc. Co-conspirators have been charged with related counts, and all but one of the 32 charged has been arrested.