Law & Justice

Press Releases

Operation Title Flip: Piscataway Man Charged as Mastermind in Car Theft Ring that Include Local Area Residents

Credits: NJ Attorney General's Office

PISCATAWAY, NJ – Luther Lewis, 38, of Piscataway is facing charges as one of three ringleaders of an auto-theft network that preyed on people selling their vehicles on Craigslist. 

New Jersey State Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP) announced in a release on Wednesday that Lewis, along with Tyisha Brantley, 36, of Scotch Plains, and Justinas Vaitoska, 39, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida were indicted on charges of first-degree promotion of organized street crime and second-degree charges leader of an auto theft network, and other offenses in connection with the car theft network.

Thirteen others were indicted for their alleged roles in the criminal scheme that was the brought down by a multi-jurisdictional investigation dubbed “Operation Title Flip.” The case involves the theft of ten vehicles, valued at $248,650, between May and November of 2015. The cars were sold to dealerships for a $107,250 profit.

Sign Up for E-News

According to prosecutors, Lewis, Vaitoska, and Brantley enlisted the aid of intermediaries to use fake bank checks to “purchase” cars from private sellers then sell them to various car dealerships in New Jersey.

“These alleged con artists trolled the Internet in a quest for cars they could steal through their fraudulent scheme,” said Attorney General Porrino. “We will not let their predatory conduct go unpunished.”

“Car thefts drive up insurance claims, which lead to higher premiums for everyone,” said Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Christopher Iu. “By breaking up this alleged crime ring we are protecting honest citizens from having to pay the price for the misdeeds of others.”

Lewis, Brantley, and Vaitoska were also indicted on charges of second-degree conspiracy and theft by deception. Also indicted on those charges were:

·         Milagros Jimenez, 54, of Haines City, Florida

·         Heather Cater, 20, of Woodbridge

·         Saint Hardy, 32, of Elizabeth

·         Deborah Rodgers, 32, of Carteret

Lewis, Brantley, Jimenez and Rodgers were also charged with second-degree impersonation. Lewis, Brantley and Jimenez were charged with third-degree attempted theft by deception. 

Under the direction of Lewis, Brantley, and Vaitoska, intermediaries posed as buyers interested in vehicles advertised for sale on Craigslist. After arranging to see the cars, the intermediaries “purchased” them by presenting the unsuspecting sellers with fake and/or stolen identification and a counterfeit Bank of America cashier’s check. The sellers, in turn, handed over the vehicles’ keys and title to the intermediaries.

The “buyers” typically arranged to purchase the vehicles in the late afternoon so that the private seller could not bring the checks to the bank that day. In the days after the "sale," the private sellers attempted to deposit the checks and discovered they were counterfeit, prosecutors said. The bogus sales could not be traced to the intermediaries because they had used fake identification.

Meanwhile, before the private sellers could discover the check was counterfeit, other intermediaries would take the vehicle titles to the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission office to transfer the title into their names.

After successfully flipping the title into the new names, the intermediaries would sell the vehicle to a car dealership for cash. After the transactions were complete, Lewis would pick up the intermediaries, take the sale proceeds, and pay the intermediaries for their role in the scheme, prosecutors said. Intermediaries were paid between $300 and $1,000 each.

The alleged intermediaries were indicted today a charge of fourth-degree falsifying records. They are:

·         Nikisha Goodman, 20, of Avenel

·         Stephen Hester, 48, of Orange

·         Chester Kinder, 62, of Newark

·         Tassan Howard, 32, of Newark

·         Kamilla Bunn, 20, of Elizabeth

·         Tanika Arrington, 30, of Newark

·         Javairia Jihad, 29, of East Orange

·         Yvonne McBride,38, of Newark

·         Marixa Medina, 31, of Newark

Another alleged intermediary, Nakita Savage, 28, of Newark, was previously indicted on charges of third-degree conspiracy, receiving stolen property, and fencing by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. 

The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. First-crimes carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000; second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $150,000; third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $15,000, fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

 

 

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

East Orange/Orange

Free Diabetes Self-Management Workshop Series Offered in East Orange

December 6, 2017

EAST ORANGE, NJ - Quality Insights Quality Innovation Network, supported locally by Healthcare Quality Strategies, Inc. (HQSI), is partnering with Prospect Park Apartments to provide free diabetes workshops as part of the Everyone with Diabetes Counts (EDC) program. The EDC program is a national initiative of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The program offers free ...

The YES Project Receives Grant to Help Runaway and Homeless Youths in Essex County, NJ

December 6, 2017

EAST ORANGE, NJ - Isaiah House's Youths Empowered to Succeed (YES) project was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—BASIC Centers grant, to help reduce the number of homeless youths surviving on the streets in Essex County, and to help increase the number of runaway and homeless youths receiving much-needed services to help them reunite with their families; and/or ...

Essex County Passes Resolution Proposed by Freeholder Toro of Bloomfield To Encourage Vendors To Hire Locally

December 12, 2017

NEWARK, NJ – During an Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders Board meeting at Maplewood Town Hall  the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a Resolution “Establishing The County Of Essex Aspirational Goal Initiative To Increase The Participation Of A Diverse And Qualified Essex County Workforce In County Projects.”

Amid new reports from the New York ...

Nine Ways to Empower Your Employees or Team Members to Discover and Develop Their Strengths and Make Confident Decisions

Maybe you’ve seen them; the one employee who is doing extremely well in their job. Are they ready to take on more responsibility? Perhaps they are. Or maybe they are very close but need help discovering and developing their strengths so they become more confident. The latter is where you come in as the employer, manager or team leader.

You will most likely be the one to encourage them to ...

Mayor's Message - December 2017

December 10, 2017

Small businesses are the cornerstone of our community, and when we shop and dine small in East Orange, we help to ensure that $68 out of every $100 spent remains in our local economy and we support the businesses that create two out of every three new jobs in our workforce each year.

 

East Orange is bustling with old and new businesses that represent the diversity of our great ...