BAYCHESTER — A Bronx man allegedly used a tow truck to steal more than two dozen cars and sell them for scrap metal, in a brash crime that cops and car dealers say can be tough to thwart and is on the rise.
During a six-week spree in December and January, Filpo Malave loaded 25 old-model cars he found on Bronx streets onto a tow truck and hauled them one at a time to New England Used Auto Parks at 4220 Boston Road in Baychester, where he used a stolen ID to sell the cars for about $450 each, officials said.
The scrap yard, which insists it did not know the vehicles were stolen, crushed most of the cars and sold the metal.
Malave, 48, was arrested at his home on Hollywood Avenue in Throgs Neck on Jan. 24, shortly after he sold his final stolen car — a 1998 Chevrolet Venture — cops said.
He has been charged with dozens of counts of grand larceny, possession of stolen property, falsifying business records, making false written statements and forgery.
Malave, who is set to appear in court Thursday, is currently being held on $100,000 bail.
While he may have been prolific, Malave wasn’t alone in the tow truck-driven stolen-car trade.
“That’s been a big problem recently,” said Inspector Kevin Catalina of the 44th Precinct in Councourse.
He suspects that thieves may have used a tow truck to haul off two stolen cargo vans from his precinct just last week.
“They snatch them off the street, take them to the yard and get money for them,” Catalina said.
Malave found most of his marks in the 43rd, 45th and 49th Precincts in the southeast Bronx, cops said.
All but three of the 25 stolen vehicles were 1990s models, according to a criminal complaint. Among them were five Toyota Camrys, four Toyota Corollas, three Honda Accords and one 1987 BMW 325-E — Malave’s first catch.
Except for a few instances, Malave used the name on a driver’s license he found in a stolen car to fill out the forms required to sell used cars to scrap yards, the complaint said.
Because the license and forms were legitimate, the scrap yard was unaware it was buying the used rides from a thief, said New England Used Auto Parts’ general manager, Julio Baez.
“To me, he looked like a regular customer — pay and go,” Baez said, adding that because the company had collected and filed the proper documents from Malave, it had not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Baez said the number of old cars the company buys each day — often two-dozen or more — combined with the cunning of thieves willing to forge documents, makes catching illegal sellers difficult.
“You never know until the police come,” Baez said. “That’s the only way.”
Not only are buyers caught off guard, but also bystanders often don’t realize they’re witnessing a crime when they see a parked car loaded onto a tow truck, said Inspector Philip Rivera of the 41st Precinct in Hunts Point and Longwood.
“It’s done in broad daylight now,” Rivera said. “Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, they got a summons or their car’s not working.’”
Rivera said his officers have started to stop more tow trucks at random and inspect the paperwork for the cars they are carrying. They have also stepped up record checks at the many scrap yards in Hunts Point, he said.
Police are taking the initiative, Rivera added, since it is difficult for car owners to prevent determined tow truck-driving criminals from making off with their vehicles.
“Short of putting a boot on it, there’s not really much people can do,” he said.