2008-01-25 / Community

Two Locals Caught In Car Insurance Sting

By Nicholas Briano

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown talks at his press conference last week about Operation "Disappearing Act". Queens District Attorney Richard Brown talks at his press conference last week about Operation "Disappearing Act". Two Far Rockaway men have been accused of participating in a massive car insurance fraud operation that led to a staggering 51 arrests throughout the city.

The two men, identified by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown as Oliver Gittens, 61 and Terrell Lovell, 26, have been arraigned on charges of bringing their automobiles to a broker who "makes them disappear" for a fee ranging from $1,000-$1,800.

According to a spokesperson for the DA, the car owners then falsely reported them as stolen in order to receive cash settlements for the cars estimated values. The stolen car operation, however, was an elaborate sting set up by the police department's Auto Crimes Unit.

All the defendants, including Gittens and Lovell, face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Gittens, of 20-55 Seagirt Boulevard, who allegedly disposed of his 2006 Chrysler 300, and Lovell, of 108 Beach 59 Street, who made his 2005 Chrysler 300 "go away." are both charged with grand larceny and insurance fraud, falsifying business records, and conspiracy, according to Brown. Brown added that more than 70 vehicles were recovered in the operation worth an estimated $1.7 million.

The automobiles had all been falsely reported as stolen to various insurance companies during the period from July 2006 to December 2007.

According to the criminal complaints against Gittens and Lovell, the elaborate process began with car owners delivering the unwanted vehicles, mostly late model and expensive luxury cars, to a so-called "middleman" who then got rid of the cars for the car owners. Each car owner filed a fraudulent claim with his or her insurance company at the same time the "middleman" took the car to a Queens garage for disposal.

The garage owner however was an undercover police officer acting as part of the NYPD sting operation, called "Operation Disappearing Act", which began in July 2006 after authorities learned of another small insurance fraud ring in Queens. The NYPD unit thereafter set up a phony undercover garage in order to expose the participants.

After 18 months of surveillance and court ordered wiretapping, the NYPD felt it had enough evidence to move forward and began prosecuting offenders last week. To date, the NYPD has apprehended 51 of the 61 suspects in the case and said that the remaining suspects should be brought in or surrender within the next week.

The process, a constant struggle between owners and insurance companies, is also known as "owner give-up" and is often driven by economic factors resulting from loan or lease payments, costly repairs or mileage limits surpassed on a lease, according to District Attorney Richard Brown.

"The defendants believed that they could beat the system," Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said at a news conference this week. "But they could not have been more mistaken."

"Instead of pocketing 'easy money'," Brown continued. "They now face serious felony charges and prison sentences."

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