Three Suffolk County men have been indicted for a scheme in which they allegedly used counterfeit credit cards and bogus driver’s licenses to rent luxury cars at local airports and then sell the vehicles for cheap to turn a quick profit, Suffolk County DA Thomas Spota said Wednesday.
The three face trial under a 64-count indictment on forgery, car theft and drug charges. Prosecutors said Jason Gonzalez, 23, of Lindenhurst was at the helm of the operation. He allegedly ordered equipment online and then created the phony documents from his bedroom at his parent’s house.
“This factory was in the bedroom in his parents’ house,” said Assistant District Attorney Rob Barry of the DA’s Special Investigations Bureau.
Felix M. Sanchez, 29, of Brentwood and Jose A. Lopez, 29, of Bay Shore, were also charged in the scheme. Prosecutors allege the two rented cars at LaGuardia, Newark and John F. Kennedy airports, often visiting the locations in the wee hours of the morning. They would then act as go-betweens and sold eight of the rented cars to undercover investigators for amounts significantly below market value, authorities said.
In one of the dealings, an undercover detective reportedly bought a 2013 Cadillac – valued at $48,000 – for $2,000 cash. Spota said the undercover spent $22,800 total and left with cars valuing $245,000.
Prosecutors believe hundreds of Long Islanders may have fallen victim in this identity fraud ring and dozens of rental cars are believed to have been stolen. So far, investigators have recovered 10 of the vehicles, but said they are still working to determine just how many cars may have been jacked.
“This scheme illustrates to all of us what is happening today…the dangers that lurk out there,” said Spota.
The DA’s office was led to the scheme after their undercover agent began purchasing marijuana and oxycodone from a fourth man charged in the indictment, Spota said. That man, Kenneth G. Godfrey, 47, of Holbrook, was allegedly working with the other three men when they told the undercover about their car ring in January, officials said.
“This was a pretty elaborate scheme that they were using,” Spota said. “You can see this is just a scheme to get quick money.”
“They would rent high-end, late model cars with all of the bells and whistles…the heated seats, the GPS…all which would enhance the value of the car,” he said. “They would then rent the car from anywhere from two to four weeks and after they used the car for their own personal use, they would then sell the car.”
Spota said his office is currently investigating whether the victims’ identities were “skimmed” at restaurants and a Suffolk County location of an undisclosed nation-wide retail chain. He said other arrests in the case may be imminent. The information collected by the skimming devices was allegedly used by Gonzalez to re-imprint the credit cards and create correlating Connecticut driver’s licenses for those individuals with Sanchez and Lopez’s photos on them.
“These were going to be sold on the street,” Spota said while holding a plastic baggie containing more than 100 homemade credit cards and driver’s licenses.
The four men have already been arraigned on the grand jury indictment. Prosecutors said Lopez and Sanchez – both prior felony offenders – are being held at the Suffolk County jail in lieu of significant bail. Godfrey was released without bail.
Jason Gonzalez was arraigned Oct. 8 and subsequently released after posting $5,000 bail. His attorney, Jonathan Manley, said his client adamantly denies any involvement in the ring. He said his client was attending a local college and working part-time. “He’s a good kid, a smart kid,” Manley said.
The four will make court appearances on separate dates in the coming weeks.