Car theft by gang members is not only Youngstown's problem; it's Boardman's problem, too, an officer said.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- South Side Soldiers often took orders for car stereos and CD players and then trolled parking lots to "shop," an investigator says.
To avoid detection, the wily thieves would often park away from the targeted car, say at Tinseltown or Movies 8 in Boardman, then crawl to it and use a tool to pop the door lock, said Boardman Detective Glenn Patton. Sophisticated lock pullers often did the job.
"They tried to avoid breaking glass to get in," said Patton, head of the auto theft division. "If they did it right, they could put the lock back and not draw attention."
Last week, 12 alleged members of the South Side Soldiers gang -- six men and six boys -- were charged with criminal gang activity. The adults face up to eight years in prison if convicted.
Patton said one kid interviewed by police said theater parking lots were good because the moviegoers were away from the vehicles for at least two hours. He said pricey stereos and CD players were either pre-ordered by buyers or stolen and then sold in neighborhoods or where prospective buyers might hang out.
If the gang wanted to take the car, not just the sound equipment, they'd simply peel the steering column with a screwdriver and drive off, Patton said. General Motors products, 1994 and back, such as Chevrolets (particularly the Caprice), Buicks and Oldsmobiles tended to be easy to take.
A pattern of crime
Boardman Police Chief Jeff Patterson recalled first coming across the South Side Soldiers in 2001 when a juvenile stole a car and it stalled out on U.S. Route 224. The boy ran through the fruits and vegetables section at a grocery store and the officer in pursuit hurt his knee during the chase.
Patterson said his department's crime analysis unit compiled the suspects' conviction records from the township and Youngstown to show the pattern of corrupt activity. He said the analysis linked people to "various and nefarious deeds."
Patton and Boardman Detective Sgt. Ray Polombi worked the South Side Soldiers case with Youngstown Detective Sgt. Mike Lambert, lead investigator. Polombi and Lambert are members of the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force gang unit.
Patton said the group likely stole at least stole 100 cars in Boardman since 2001. He said the gang was also responsible for breaking into another 100 or so cars in the township to steal items that could be easily sold.
Lambert said the gang operated in the area of Pasadena and East Dewey avenues and branched out into Boardman. He said their crimes evolved from simple curfew violations into car thefts, burglaries and shooting at rival gang members.
Facing the law
These six Youngstown boys arrested last week were charged in juvenile court: Lamar Knox, 15; Aundre Scruthchen, 15; Lavar Paige, 17; Lavelle Stanley, 15; Keith Black, 17; and Montrail Berry, 16. A mix-up that occurred with the charge against Knox was resolved, police said. Another city boy, 16-year-old Calvin Shelton, is charged with complicity to felonious assault with a gun specification.
All have hearing dates scheduled in juvenile court within the next few weeks. Judge Theresa Dellick will consider a prosecutor's motion to relinquish jurisdiction for some of the defendants. If the judge agrees, the boys would have their cases presented to a Mahoning County grand jury as adults.
The adults charged are Maurice Morris, 22; Ricky Paige, 19; Jawan Knox, 19; Anthony Scruchen, 19; Lynell Stanley, 20; and Donald Thompkins, 18. Most have trial dates set in August in common pleas court.
A wide grasp
Aside from Youngstown's South Side and Boardman, the gang is accused of stealing cars from Warren, Niles, Austintown, Struthers and Akron and, in some cases, from Columbus, Patton said. They mostly took cars from parking lots -- stores and apartment complexes -- where they felt comfortable, he said.
Investigators are looking into an Akron connection because cars stolen there ended up in this area and cars from here ended up there.
The gang kept some stolen cars for themselves, avoiding detection by taking the vehicle identification number off a junk car (same model and year of the stolen car) and putting the number on the car they wanted to keep, Patton said. If police checked the VIN, it came back to a car not reported stolen.
Polombi said the gang was active every day -- morning, afternoon and evening -- but mostly on Fridays and Saturdays. He said they were very cocky, very arrogant.
"Youngstown's problem is Boardman's problem -- we have what they want. Without cooperation [from Youngstown police] it would be difficult," Polombi said. "The crimes were getting worse and worse. Most of violence was in the city."
Polombi described Lambert's work on the case as phenomenal.
Lambert said the South Side Soldiers are the first in a series of arrests that will target several well-known neighborhood "homespun" street gangs whose criminal activity has created problems for residents of Youngstown and surrounding communities.