‘Baywatch’ In Rockaway
By Joan Ward George
"Operation Jet Ski", a 17 month long multi-agency investigation into a major jet ski theft and fraud scam, began back on August 4, 1998 when Police Officer James Galimi and Sgt. Terry McShane, uniformed patrolmen of the 100 Precinct, came upon a truck loaded with four "stolen" water scooters on the dock near Beach 108 street and Beach Channel drive.
The follow up investigation initiated by the 100 Precinct Detective Squad led police authorities to 55 individuals residing from Mill Basin, Brooklyn to Howard Beach, Queens, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The result was the unearthing of a scam of water craft thefts and insurance frauds and the recovery of 27 water skis, of the 55 police were tracking throughout the investigation. The stolen watercraft is estimated to be worth $412,000.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, joined by New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir and officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Postal Inspection Service, United States Custom Service, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and New York State Insurance Department announced yesterday the indictment of 55 individuals, including the owners of owners/operators of Howard Beach’s Cross Bay Honda Suzuki, Michael Cirasola of Oceanside and Salvator Cirasola of West Hempstead
and the owners/operators of Caribbean Central Sport, Inc., a similar dealership in Puerto Rico.
According to Brown, from September 1996 to November 1998 Kim Aiello, jr., 21, of Mill Basin, Brooklyn, coordinated the theft of 52 jetskis and three jetboats from the Howard Beach, Mill Basin and Sheepshead Bay communities. Aiello is alleged to have coordinated the activities of various thieves or those who gave up their watercraft to defraud their insurance companies, stored the jetskiss and jet boats at his former residence until they could be shipped to Puerto Rico and made the shipping arrangements with the assistance of the Cirasolas. 52-two jetskis and three jetboats, which had allegedly been stolen or which were allegedly "given up" to the ring to defraud insurance companies and which were shipped from the New York metropolitan area and resold to purchasers in Puerto Rico, have been traced. Twenty-seven of those (21 in Puerto Rico and 6 in the New York metropolitan area) have been recovered to date.
District Attorney Brown said, "Over the last several summers, police officers assigned to the NYPD's Harbor Unit's Vessel Theft Unit noted a significant increase in the number of jetskis and jetboats reported stolen and never recovered from waterfront communities in Brooklyn and Queens. After alerting the appropriate police precincts and with the assistance of members of the NYPD's Patrol and Detective Divisions, the Vessel Theft Unit developed further information about the widespread theft of watercraft in Queens and Brooklyn. Thereafter, a year ago last August, a joint investigation was undertaken by the NYPD and the Queens District Attorney's Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau, assisted by agents and investigators of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the United States Customs Service, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New York State Department of Insurance."
New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir said, "This enforcement action is the culmination of a 17 month investigation which has resulted in 40 arrests so far (15 additional people are being sought). Theft and insurance fraud are far from being victimless crimes. These types of cases send a clear message to potential offenders that we will make it as difficult as possible for anyone engaged in illegal activities, no matter what the magnitude of the activity is. Additionally, these arrests should serve as a reminder to the public that we all pay the price when individuals commit fraud. We will continue these types of enforcement efforts with the Queens District Attorney's Office and other law enforcement agencies in aggressively pursuing anyone engaged in these types of illegal activities."
"During the course of our investigation", District Attorney Brown said, "it was discovered that the alleged scheme was facilitated by the fact that Bombardier and other recreational vehicle manufacturers typically sold jetskis at the New York Boat Show in January on terms which required no down payment and no other payments until September and helped buyers obtain financing and insurance for the watercraft. These arrangements, it is believed, made it easier for Aiello to recruit people willing to claim that their watercraft had been stolen because it spared the owners the expense of storing the watercraft over the winter, gave them the money to pay off the loan and receive money from the defendant Aiello's crew as well. Moreover, it is believed that it also increased sales to Cross Bay Honda Suzuki since the jetski owners could then buy a brand new jetski the following Spring and repeat the scheme which allowed them the use all summer of a jetski at no cost to them.
"In addition to participating in the operation of a theft and insurance fraud ring," said District Attorney Brown, "the owners of Cross Bay Honda Suzuki and other defendants are charged with having participated in an unlawful warranty scheme and performing false warranty repair work. It is charged that Cross Bay Honda Suzuki, a licensed dealer of Bombardier jetskis, sold 59 Bombardier jetskis to Caribbean Central Sport, in Puerto Rico, in violation of their agreement with Bombardier and that the defendants Cirasola and Wascar Valenzuela forged warranty agreements filed with Bombardier to falsely state that the 59 jetskis were sold and registered for use in New York when, in fact, the jetskis were sold and in use in Puerto Rico. A number of these jetskis, it is alleged, were registered in the names of employees of Cross Bay Honda Suzuki.
Federal Bureau of Investigations Assistant Director Lewis D. Schiliro said, "This investigation once again demonstrates the value of the law enforcement community working together to solve a specific crime. The FBI's ability to conduct investigations across state and national borders is an important aid to state and local law enforcement in a criminal landscape that increasingly knows no borders."
Neil D. Levin, Superintendent of Insurance said, "These arrests prove that aggressive multi agency efforts are working to protect New York State consumers. Multi-agency efforts like this also give us the opportunity to step up our efforts to eliminate insurance fraud."
The 10 defendants charged with enterprise corruption face a maximum penalty of up to 25 years in prison. Those charged with insurance fraud, a class D felony, face penalties of up to seven years in prison.
Mr. Aiello pleaded not guilty in court yesterday.