Seven people were arrested for allegedly using mopeds to rob pedestrians in a criminal enterprise organized through WhatsApp, the NYPD said on Monday.
Officials said the seven are accused of robbing 147 people in 62 incidents in what they described as drive-by purse and phone snatchings. Police identified a 30-year-old man from Venezuela as the alleged ringleader, who came to the U.S. in 2023 but was not among those arrested.
“[The ringleader] will send out specific orders for what type of phone he is looking for and then the text will say, ‘I have money. I’m available. Go get ’em,’” Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said at a news conference on Monday. “Once the messages are received, the crime wave begins with the scooter operators making $100 a day and the actual phone-snatcher making between $300 to $600 per phone.”
According to police, there is probable cause to arrest three more people in addition to the seven arrested as part of the robbery pattern, but they have not yet been found. Kenny said officers were still investigating other robberies.
“This network of thieves predominantly live in the migrant shelter system,” he said. “They use social media platforms to organize and coordinate their thefts.”
Attorney information for those arrested was not immediately available.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams joined police in serving search warrants Sunday night. Speaking on Monday, the mayor pressed on the importance of separating incidents like these with the greater community of asylum-seekers who have come to New York over recent years.
“The overwhelming number of migrants and asylum-seekers want to work, they want to contribute to our society,” Adams said at the news conference. “We should not in any way take these criminals and state that they are the indicators of the people who are here.”
Adams said police seized 2,500 illegal mopeds in 2023 – a 74% increase compared to las year. According to NYPD statistics, 976 electric scooter users were ticketed in 2023. Meanwhile, more than 11,000 cyclists and 2,800 e-bike riders were ticketed.
Separately, officials seized 43 illegally parked motorized scooters in Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Corona and Long Island City, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.
Katz on Monday pointed to a July drive-by shooting that killed an 86-year-old man and wounded two others in calling for stepped-up enforcement.
“The often careless and dangerous operation of motorized scooters on our roads, and even our sidewalks, has become an urgent concern,” she wrote in a statement. “Their use to commit violent crimes and escape will not be tolerated and requires immediate action.”
According to a DA news release, the recent moped confiscations were parked on sidewalks and nearly all of them were unregistered.
“The law is coming for those who use mopeds illegally,” Adams said. “We have been cracking down on the illegal use of mopeds.”