COLUMBIA, SC — A summer crime spree of car break-ins and bank fraud committed by a band of criminals known as a “Felony Lane Gang” has come to an end after local police arrested eight people.
The gang struck the Midlands in late May and early June as they broke into dozens of cars to steal purses so they could obtain driver’s licenses, credit cards and checkbooks, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said. The gang members then would cash the stolen checks at bank drive-thru windows, where they often wore wigs and sunglasses to disguise themselves.
The group stole an estimated $60,000 by cashing fraudulent checks at banks in the early summer, Lott said. They also went on a crime spree in the Midlands in the summer of 2012 but left town before police caught onto the scheme.
The group, which is based out of Florida, earned the nickname Felony Lane Gang because they use the drive-thru window furthest from the bank teller to avoid detection, Lott said. Felony Lane Gangs operate across the United States and are loosely connected cells of criminals, the sheriff said.
Lott announced the eight arrests Tuesday as he was surrounded by chiefs from the Columbia, Lexington and Irmo police departments as well as agents from the State Law Enforcement Division and the U.S. Postal Service. Most of the suspects were being extradited from Florida.
Those arrested have been charged with motor vehicle break-ins, bank fraud and criminal conspiracy. For now, those charges have been levied by local law enforcement agencies, although Lott said they had been in discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about possible federal charges.
The Felony Lane Gang hit parking lots of parks, gyms and other public places where women leave their purses in their cars, said Lexington Police Chief Terrance Green. Friarsgate Park was a popular target.
The thieves then would drive to Columbia to cash stolen checks, Green said. His investigators tracked the gang to a motel off Garners Ferry Road in June where all but one escaped after a car chase. One man was left behind.
“From there, we were able to roll with it,” Green said.
Since the Felony Lane Gang left town, the number of car break-ins in commercial parking lots has plummeted, Green said. In May and June, the department reported more than 30 auto break-ins. Since then, about one per month has been reported, he said.
A task force from multiple police agencies and bank representatives worked on the case, Lott said.
Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago said the collaboration among police agencies was key to breaking the case.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.