Today’s news:

Two Flushing residents charged in insurance fraud ring: DA

Thirty men and women, ranging from a school teacher to a man with suspected mob ties, were arraigned Tuesday for an insurance fraud ring that involved stolen vehicles worth $1.6 million, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced.

Thirteen of the accused are from Queens.

The ring was run by Derek Martinez, a 24-year-old Ozone Park man who was linked to organized crime, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

“He’s a career criminal with ties to the Gambino crime family,” said Kelly.

Kelly joined Brown amid a sea of cars off 31st Avenue in College Point at the NYPD’s impound lot, home to the 68 vehicles Brown said were falsely reported stolen.

Twenty-four car owners turned over their vehicles to middlemen to get rid of them, filed false insurance claims reporting their vehicles stolen and received settlements of up to $32,000, said Brown.

Meanwhile, the middlemen sold the vehicles to undercover detectives posing as junkyard dealers for up to $1,500, the district attorney said.

Thirteen of those arraigned were from Queens, the district attorney said. Those identified were from Glendale, Flushing, Long Island City, Ozone Park, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood and South Ozone Park.

The 30 defendants were variously charged with criminal possession of stolen property, falsely reporting an incident and conspiracy, and most face up to seven years in prison if convicted, the district attorney said.

Brown said that 13 car owners and two middlemen involved in the scheme were still being sought.

Inspector James Dean of the NYPD Auto Crime Division supervised the case.

“It happens quite a bit out there,” said Dean of insurance fraud.

Brown said auto thefts have dropped nearly 85 percent in Queens over the last 10 years. But at the same time insurance fraud has risen, with many of the perpetrators former car thieves.

“These are people who have been in the car theft industry for awhile,” said Brown.

Brown added that the rise in insurance fraud, which costs the insurance industry $23 billion a year, has kept premiums high despite the decline in car theft.

While many of the middlemen in the ring had been involved in the auto thefts, those who sold them their cars for the most part had no criminal records, Kelly said.

Among those indicted were an MTA bus operator, a public school teacher, a Long Island Rail Road engineer, a registered nurse and a U.S. postal worker.

“These were people, as the inspector said, that up until this were probably law abiding citizens,” said Kelly.

The investigation began in December 1999 when undercover detectives posed as junkyard dealers began a buy-back operation on a Queens Village street corner, said the district attorney. The detectives would pay the middleman with marked money, Brown said.

By August 2001, prosecutors began to wiretap Martinez’s cell phone, said the district attorney.

The district attorney identified alleged car owners from Queens as:

Patrizia Castelli, 38, of 78-49 81st St., Glendale

Joseph DeToma, 24, of 132-07 83rd St., Ozone Park

John Devito, 32, of 65-24 162nd St., Flushing

Marisol Garcia, 27, of 64-45 Booth St., Rego Park

Melaine Goldman, 27, 107-14 91st St., Ozone Park

Amy Hemley, 25, 101-22 84th St., Ozone Park

Eileen Koslowsky, 51, 67-34 136th St., Flushing

Victoria Lukasiewisz, 30, of 416 Woodward Ave., Ridgewood

Nikola Pjetri, 51, 43-22 45th St., Long Island City

Joseph Rivera, 25, 86-02 Park Lane South, Woodhaven

The district attorney identified the alleged middlemen in addition to Martinez from Queens as:

Daniel Hernandez, 29, 97-12 78th St., Ozone Park

Joseph Murray, 21, 94-49 115th St., Richmond Hill

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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