Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Midlands law enforcement agencies say they teamed up to arrest members of a national roving gang that broke into cars and stole money from people in our area.
Multiple law enforcement officials made the announcement of the results of their work to combat the "Felony Lane Gang" at a Tuesday press conference in Columbia. Officers say they've arrested eight suspects in the case.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said earlier this year, the Midlands saw a large increase in the number of vehicle break-ins. At the same time, there was also a rise in the same victims losing money from their bank accounts.
By communicating with banks and multiple agencies in the area and out of state, officials were able to piece together what was happening: a multi-state group of gang members was working together to take people's money.
Lott said the Felony Lane Gang, as law enforcement calls them, involves street gang members who originate in Florida.
"It's not one group," Lott said "It's a bunch of groups that are all associated. They all know each other and in some way they work with each other. they don't violate other people's property or areas that they're going to work in."
He said the group decided it would be easy to make money by breaking into cars, stealing people's checks, and using that information. Lott described them as working in criminal "cells" that move across the country.
Here's how it worked. The men would recruit women from the Orlando area (women with prostitution convictions usually, according to Lott) and bring them to another area. The men would then go to place that women frequent, including gyms, tanning salons, and sporting events, and look inside their vehicles. If they saw a purse inside, they'd break into the car, and take the checks.
The women would then take the checks to a local bank and cash them. They even went so far as to color the women's hair, or use wigs and large sun glasses to make them look like the victim.(The group gets its name from bank investigators, who say the suspects would always use the outside lane at the bank to because it was harder to see the details of their face.)
He said the group would target an area for a while, then move on. By striking in multiple jurisdictions within an area, the criminals made it tough to spot their crimes.
"A car that gets broken into may be assigned to somebody in Richland County, but the check that's going to be cashed in a bank may be in Irmo, may be in the town of Lexington," he explained. "What happens is we don't talk. So that investigator that may be working the bank fraud case in Lexington is not going to get with the investigator in Richland County who's working the car break in in Richland County and put it all together."
It's estimated the groups could make $12,000 a day cashing the checks. Investigators say they defrauded one bank for $60,000.