Several dozen people and three corporations allegedly involved in an intricate auto theft and insurance scheme have been arrested, Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams announced at a news conference Wednesday.
Authorities said two men, Jihad Miller and Preston Thomas, headed the ring through a company called Cheap Auto. They purchased inexpensive salvaged vehicles from online auctions, removed vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and reattached those to the stolen vehicles, selling the seemingly legitimate vehicles to unsuspecting customers.
Miller and Thomas were among 32 charged.
Their accomplices would rent vehicles from local branches, then allegedly fraudulently reported them stolen to authorities, handing the keys over to Miller and Thomas, instead. Cheap Auto then slapped the salvaged VINs onto these stolen cars and obtained or created fraudulent titles and other documentation to make the vehicles appear legitimate.
Miller, Thomas and their co-conspirators made thousands of dollars in profit, even tripling their investments in some cases, authorities said.
This scheme, which the D.A.'s office has been investigating for several years, stole and repurposed 45 vehicles in all, 33 of which came from car rental agencies.
"The victims are not only corporations, and those of us who pay our insurance and get increased insurance bills because of theft, but those poor buyers, the unsuspecting buyers," said Assistant District Attorney Linda Montag.
Authorities said the scheme cost rental car companies more than $500,000, and resulted in more than $60,000 in false insurance claims.
One suspect is still being sought, Karriem Upshur, who, according to the DA's office, fraudulently registered 17 vehicles with bogus insurance policies.