New York – Seven immigrants have been arrested in multiple Monday morning NYPD raids in the Bronx, targeting a gang behind a citywide robbery spree, the NYPD said.
Police believe they are part of a gang involved in cell phone robberies across the city. Police said some of the stolen items were recovered during the raid.
It all starts with criminals stealing the cellphones of people riding scooters and then hacking them to gain access to banking apps, police said.
Surveillance video shows the suspect on a scooter grabbing the victim's bag and dragging them down the sidewalk.
The investigation led to a search of an apartment in the Allerton section of the Bronx on Monday and several arrests.
Police say the robbery ring was run by a Venezuelan immigrant
Videos provided by the NYPD show unsuspecting victims working in pairs on mopeds, dragging free iPhones, bags and wallets to wrestle them away.
Police officers, along with Mayor Eric Adams, made multiple arrests at an apartment at 2790 Bronx Park East that was described as a stash house or headquarters for a wide-ranging, multi-parous cellphone robbery operation involving more than a dozen suspects. Police said many of them were migrants.
“This small number of people break the law and have a huge impact on our public safety, which is why we zeroed in on them,” Adams said. “We're not going to sit idly by when people choose to prey on their fellow New Yorkers.”
“This administration, the police department, we've always talked about welcoming asylum seekers. But if you start robbing people and stealing from them, your status is a crime and you're going to be treated as such,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Tariq Shepherd.
“It doesn't matter if a person is an immigrant, an asylum seeker or a long-term New Yorker. You're breaking the law, it's going to be investigated, it's going to be dealt with by our criminal justice system,” Adams said. “If you engage in any criminal behavior that affects the quality of life of New York City residents, you should not be allowed to walk the streets of New York City.”
The arrests took place around 5:30 a.m. Monday at Victor Barra's apartment. Police said Para is still absconding. Several arrests were made and evidence recovered.
“So in recent months, a wave of immigrant crime has engulfed our city. But in no way do the people who commit these crimes represent the vast majority of people who come to New York to make better lives. However, they are preying on New Yorkers and making our city safer,” said NYPD Commissioner Edward Capan.
“I want to reiterate that most of the 170,000+ immigrants and asylum seekers are trying to continue their next step in pursuing the American dream. But those who commit crimes are treated like any other criminals in this city. No different. No different attitude, no different reaction, no different response from the police department,” Adams said. said. “We're not going to sit idly by when people choose to prey on their fellow New Yorkers.”
Police say thieves use scooters to rob and steal
“We believe the individuals involved have been involved in 62 robberies across our city, including our transportation system. Riding on mopeds, scooters, and taking property from New Yorkers like iPhones and wallets. These individuals are unlicensed. Steal in our city,” Adams said. “Mopeds and scooters are used to commit crimes and harm innocent people. I want to make it clear again. The law comes down to illegal moped users.”
Adams said the NYPD seized more than 2,500 illegal mopeds and scooters last year — a 74% increase over the previous year.
“Many thieves on mopeds are involved in these crimes, taking cellphones and wallets from victims. These thieves will ride behind victims on the sidewalk, steal their property, and then flee. Most of the victims are women, simply walking alone. We've also seen the mopeds used in these crimes stolen,” NYPD Det. President Joseph Kenney said.
Police said the robbery spree began in November 2023 on the Upper East Side, and the latest incident happened Sunday night in Chinatown.
“This network of thieves often lives in the immigrant shelter system. They use social media platforms to organize and coordinate their thefts,” Kenny said.
Officials said Barra would post the request on WhatsApp and the scooter drivers and the thieves might not even know each other.
“Once the news gets out, the crime wave starts, the scooter operators make $100 a day, and the real phone snatcher makes $300-600 per stolen phone,” Kenny said.
The stolen phones were brought to Barra, who “used a tech guy who could hack into these stolen phones where he gets access to the victim's financial and banking apps,” Kenny said.
Investigators said the suspects were snapping up phones as they were lured into payment apps, including Apple Pay. Investigators said the suspects ran charges against credit cards linked to the phones.
Kenny said police have so far identified 14 members of the group and arrested seven so far. More arrests are expected.
Officials said the arrested have not been in recent contact.
Some Bronx residents say the theft ring worries them, especially for their most vulnerable loved ones and neighbors.
“I'm so scared, my mom. She's over there, and it's so scary for the elderly,” said Bronx resident Pamela Colon. “What they're doing is not right.”
A “national problem,” Adams says
“This is a national problem. We need a bipartisan national solution. Republicans have blocked real immigration reform for years. It's time we tackle this real problem that affects not just New York, but cities,” Adams said. “This is a national problem that affects cities. And our message is clear: More than 175,000 immigrants and asylum seekers have come here. That's 12. So any New Yorker is looking at people trying to make their next step. In the American dream of criminals, that's wrong. That's not what we're seeing. A large number of immigrants and asylum seekers want to work. They want to contribute to our society. They believe that their progress has been suspended. In contributing to our society, we should not take these criminals in any way and say that they are indicators of who is here.”
“This is not about immigrants and asylum seekers. It's about criminals who have committed a crime. And if criminals are longtime New Yorkers or if they came here last year, we're going to treat them the same way. These are the criminals we brought to justice,” Adams said.