3 accused of stealing cars for scrap metal

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Three people were arrested Thursday, charged with stealing more than two dozen cars in Queens and selling the metal as scrap.

Jose Montenegro, 27, and Jennifer Avila, 26, of Brooklyn, and Pedro Lopez, 20, of Woodhaven, were arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on several criminal charges including grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, unauthorized use of a vehicle, and falsifying business records.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said for four months, the suspects were reaping as much as $700 per vehicle by exploiting a legal loophole.

"These defendants are accused of taking advantage of a quirk in the law in which individuals can dispose of vehicles that are eight years or older without proof of title," he said in a statement.

Officials said the defendants dropped off 32 stolen cars, most of which were Ford Econoline vans, to a Queens junkyard between April and August.

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They presented the dismantler with a state DMV form that is used to transfer a vehicle at least eight years old and worth less than $1,250 and claimed they were the owners, according to officials.

The form is used when an owner doesn't have the title for the car.

"They allegedly walk away with hundreds of dollars for each vehicle that is crushed, leaving the true vehicle owners -- many of whom depended on their cars for work -- without wheels," Brown explained.

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Eleven of the cars were crushed into scrap metal, but police were able to save 21 others from destruction.

If convicted on their charges, the suspects each face up to 4 years in prison, Brown said.

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