NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The NYPD says it has foiled the largest robbery pattern in the city - thieves snatching women's purses and phones out of their hands.
Officers raided a suspected safe house in the Bronx early Monday morning. The suspects are migrants from Venezuela.
"In recent a months a wave of migrant crime has washed over our city, but by no means are the individuals committing these crimes representing the vast number of people coming to New York to build a better life," NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban said.
The string of 62 thefts of phones stolen from women on the street and in the subway system has been linked to a mastermind overseeing the spree from his Bronx apartment, the NYPD said on Monday.
Victor Parra, who is still being sought, ran a sophisticated criminal enterprise of migrants predominantly living in the city's system, police said.
"They use social media platforms to organize and coordinate their thefts. This is how they operate. The leader of the crew identified as Victor Parra will blast out a message via WhatsApp that he's looking for phones," Chief of Detectives Joe Kenny said.
Video released by the NYPD shows a 52-year-old woman being violently dragged by thieves on a scooter after being mugged of her bag, phone, credit cards, keys, glasses, $60 cash and her ID. It happened last month in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn.
To carry out their crimes, they would ride up behind their victims, mostly women walking alone on the sidewalk, and grab their phones or purses and make their getaway.
A scooter operator would make $100 and a phone snatcher $300 to $600.
The phones were taken to Parra's apartment, where his 'tech guy' hacked into the stolen phones, accessing the victims' financial and banking apps for fraudulent purchases in the U.S. or Central America.
The phones were then sent to Colombia, where they were wiped clean.
Police recovered 22 stolen phones as well as victim's identification from Parra's home during a search on Monday.
Investigators said they took five people into custody on Monday.
The following individuals have been identified and charged:
- 20-year-old Cleyber Andrade is charged with 25 counts of grand larceny.
- 23-year-old Juan Uzcatgui is charged with 23 counts of grand larceny.
- 24-year-old Roxanna Sahos is charged with tampering with evidence.
- 20-year-old Alexander Dayker is charged with criminal possession of stolen property.
In all, seven of the 14 members of this crew have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of grand larceny.
"They're essentially ghost criminals. No criminal history. Not photos. No cell phone. No social media. Sometimes we're even unclear on name or a date of birth. And on top of that these operations are extremely sophisticated." Caban said.
"If they're found guilty and they do their time they should be deported. You should not be allowed to walk the streets of New York," Mayor Eric Adams added.
Parra is from Venezuela and entered the country last year. He was last before a judge in December on a grand larceny charge.
The string started in November 2023 on the Upper East Side and the most recent incident was in Chinatown on Sunday night
The thefts occurred in every borough except Staten Island. Nearly 56% of them were in Manhattan
The news comes as criticism grows against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg after just one of several migrants believed to have attacked two police officers in Times Square was put behind bars. Four others were released without bail.