State Police today announced a series of arrests linked to an international car theft ring operating in the greater Philadelphia area.
State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan and other law enforcement officials held a press conference regarding the arrests at the .
The investigation, known as “Operation Wheels of Fortune,” identified 26 suspects from Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland who have been charged in connection with the theft of at least 57 vehicles, valued at more than $2.3 million – many destined for buyers located overseas. The cars were stolen from dealerships in the greater Philadelphia area, including in Bensalem and Thompson BMW in Doylestown.
Noonan said the thieves walked into the dealerships when employees were busy and took keys from desks or counters. They then just went into the lot and hit the lock/unlock button until they found their target vehicle.
“In most cases, dealers and customers were unaware that their keys had been stolen, giving the thieves ample opportunity to either take the vehicle immediately, or return later to drive the car off the lot,” Noonan said.
Some vehicles were also taken during carjackings, gunpoint robberies and burglaries.
According to Noonan, one of the ringleaders was identified as Akim Lane, 31, of Folsom, Pa., who police said acted as a middleman between the car thieves and the purchasers. Another ringleader was Mohamad Fornah, 25, of Philadelphia, who lead the group that bought the stolen vehicles to ship to West Africa on cargo ships.
These two and the other defendants were to be arraigned before Magisterial , who then scheduled preliminary hearings.