LONDONDERRY, NH – Londonderry Police made one arrest in January and since then have issued half a dozen arrest warrants for individuals they suspect are responsible for a sophisticated scheme to steal rental cars from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car at the Manchester Boston Regional Airport, and other rental agencies, using fraudulent identities and credit cards.
In addition to the arrest warrants, police say they’re still investigating to get probable cause on about four or five others they have identified as suspects so far.
On Jan. 28, police caught one suspect in the act, they said, when they arrested Liam Taggart, 22, of Medford, Mass. Police charged Taggart with theft by deception of more than $1,501, a Class A felony; forgery of a government instrument or check, a class B felony; and two counts of misdemeanor forgery.
He was arraigned and released, though Londonderry Police Det. Narciso Garcia Jr. said Taggart is likely facing additional charges for armed robbery and fraud in Medford.
Garcia had been investigating reports of car thefts from the airport Enterprise since October. Between then and April, 17 cars have been stolen totaling just over $700,000 in value.
So far, they’ve been able to recover 16 of the stolen cars. One car was tracked to Virginia before it made it back to New England and was recovered after a car chase in Everett, Mass. The person driving it was not the same person who stole it.
Garcia said that is often the case because these cars change hands often. He said they’re used by scammers to travel out of state to defraud banks, to commit burglaries and robberies with unassuming models that don’t raise suspicions when seen by patrols, or sold and smuggled to buyers overseas.
The one rental vehicle they still haven’t recovered is a luxury SUV. Garcia said they don’t know for sure but they suspect that one was sold to such a buyer.
He said there is one case he is aware of where a person drove a stolen rental car from Massachusetts to Minnesota to try and scam a bank out of an $80,000 line of credit.
“These people will travel. That’s the other reason why they want these vehicles,” he said.
Investigators say each theft involves multiple people working behind the scenes.
“Usually they’re not alone, but there were one or two cases where they did act alone,” Garcia said.
The thefts involve forgers, renters, people who stay hidden while they commission another person to make the transaction at the rental counter, spotters who cue renters to join the rush of passengers from a recently debarked airplane, and buyers.
Sometimes the thieves are working with an independent crew, other times they are part of a gang or a drug trafficking organization.
“Different criminal enterprises are involved in the scam,” Garcia said.
According to Garcia’s research, this M.O. was first innovated by a Haitian gang in Miami, Florida, called Zoe Pound. Since then, it has been adopted by copycats up the East Coast, with major hubs centered around New York and Boston.
As rental counters in Boston Logan International Airport got wise to the scheme, the thieves branched out to other cities and towns until they made their way up to MHT, Garcia said. Since police and rental workers stepped up their efforts, it seems the scammers have moved on to new targets.
“In the last three months, we’ve definitely slowed it down,” Garcia said.
After the first several thefts from the Manchester airport, Garcia developed a training for patrol officers and rental company clerks to be able to spot fraudulent credit cards and IDs.
Det. Lt. Jason Breen said Garcia’s training was instrumental in identifying and arresting Taggart.
According to the arrest warrant, Taggart was found with a fake Texas driver’s license, a fraudulent Navy Federal Credit Union credit card and two fake $100 bills.
The bank identification number on the credit card belonged to a VISA account, and the driver’s license had the name and address of a Texas man, the ID number of a second Texas man but the photo and physical descriptors of Taggart.