Law Enforcement Combats Nationwide Theft Ring

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More than 20 municipal, county, state and federal agencies from across Ohio attended an Ohio Parks and Recreation Association Law Enforcement Section workshop May 7 at Wildwood Preserve to crack down on thefts from motor vehicles and a notorious identity theft ring known as the “Felony Lane Gang.”

The Felony Lane Gang, which targets parks and other public places, originated 10 years ago in Florida and has been linked to criminal activities in over 500 cities across 45 states.

“The way we are going to protect people and property, and put an end to this criminal gang is by working together,” said Steve Oneail, Metroparks Toledo detective and OPRA law enforcement Section chairman, who coordinated the event.

The transient thieves rip off checks and identification, among other things, from cars at public places such as parks, fitness centers and daycares. They recruit drug addicts and prostitutes, disguise them to look like the victims’ identification photos and cash checks at banks using the outer lane of bank drive-through windows, dubbed the “Felony Lane.” The ring is responsible for the theft of tens of millions of dollars from victims across the country.

The workshop focused on the need to communicate with other agencies to combat transient thieves. It included prevention, reporting, security, evidence collection, identification, apprehension and prosecution tactics. Critical concepts for park staff and the public to understand include securing valuables and reporting suspicious persons and vehicle activity regardless of how minor they might seem.

Speaker Jeff Hammer, of the Marion County, Indiana Sheriff’s Office and criminal analyst and founder of the Felony Lane Gang Working Group, has been tracking the gang since 2014. He discussed his experience analyzing the gang, and resources for officers to identify and apprehend suspects, including a criminal database designed to share information with criminal justice agencies across the country.