NYC cop among arrests in chop shop bust

January 17, 2008 11:39:39 AM PST
More than 60 suspects, including a New York City cop, were arrested in a chop shop bust in Queens. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that Thursday that 61 people individuals have been charged in the $1.7 million undercover insurance fraud sting operation.

Authorities say the bust resulted in the recovery of 70 vehicles that had been falsely reported as stolen by their owners in order to get large insurance settlements.

Fifty-one of the individuals are reportedly in custody, while the remaining 10 are presently being sought or are expected to surrender.

According to the charges, a vehicle owner would deliver his/her car to a so-called "middleman" with the understanding that the middleman would then dispose of the vehicle. The owner would then falsely report the car stolen to the police and file an insurance claim.

In turn, the middleman would deliver the car to a Queens garage, known to accept insurance job vehicles and discretely dispose of them for a fee based upon the condition of the vehicle.

Authorities say the middleman typically would give the garage owner the vehicle keys with the understanding that the keys would be returned within a week, so that the car owner could return them to their insurance company as evidence of the vehicle's stolen nature.

However, unbeknownst to those charged in the scheme, police say the owner of the garage was an undercover detective.

Among the 41 individuals charged with giving up their vehicles are:

  • New York City police officer Shantell McKinnies
  • The director of security at a city-run hospital
  • A New York City buildings inspector
  • A Virginia physician
  • An employee with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • An owner and employee of a Long Island used car lot are among the 15 individuals charged with brokering the vehicles, while five other individuals are variously charged with possessing stolen vehicles or possessing and/or removing vehicle identification numbers from vehicles

    Authorities say the 18-month investigation, dubbed Operation Disappearing Act, was conducted utilizing various law enforcement techniques - including court-ordered wiretaps and video and physical surveillance.

    "In recent years we have seen an alarming increase in automobile insurance fraud in the New York metropolitan area, indeed, throughout the state and across the country," Brown said. "The cost of automobile insurance fraud is enormous, estimated by the insurance industry at $23 billion nationwide each year, and is ultimately passed on to the consumer by way of ever increasing insurance premiums."

    Police say McKinnies, who is assigned to the 102nd Precinct in Queens, turned over her 2006 Dodge Charger. Her vehicle was allegedly delivered by the defendant Malcolm Young to undercover detectives in Queens on August 20, 2007, for $1,200.

    It is alleged that McKinnies falsely reported that her vehicle had been stolen within the confines of the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn on August 23, 2007, and thereafter received a $26,255 settlement from USAA Insurance.

    The arrests are the latest in a series of undercover operations in Queens County targeting auto theft and insurance fraud that began in 1991 and is being conducted by the NYPD's Organized Crime Control Bureau Auto Crime Division and the Queens District Attorney's Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau.

    Most of the defendants face up to seven years in prison, if convicted.