Bling is no bargain.

That's the lesson Suffolk cops will learn after officers inadvertently lowballed the cost of some stolen high-end car tire rims, a type of spinning road jewelry that can run into the high five figures.

The result: dozens of rim removals were misclassified as a misdemeanor rather than a grand larceny - a felony carrying a stiff jail sentence. While police said the mistakes wouldn't affect investigations, they could complicate matters when and if suspects came to court, even lightening an eventual sentence.

"I don't think a lot of officers were aware what some of this stuff costs," said Deputy Insp. William Neubauer of the Major Crimes Bureau.

The department's review this year of hundreds of such thefts was sparked by the February arrests of the "rim reapers."

In Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota's announcement of the felony indictment, he accused a five-man ring of stealing more than $250,000 in wheels from Mercedes-Benzes, Cadillac Escalades, and other flashy rides.

After at least one larceny connected to the group was found to have been misreported, the police's review of 367 thefts between October 2008 and last July showed that a quarter of 99 reported petty larcenies should likely have been listed as grand larcenies. According to state law, theft of property worth $1,000 or more is a felony; the class E charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 4 years.

"We don't think it's a systemic problem, but it's a mistake and we're fixing it," Neubauer said.

A new training CD prepared by police academy instructors and to be distributed to all commands includes photos of nice chrome, tips on price, and a reminder about crime classification and property values.

With more than 22,000 larcenies reported in the county last year, police said the rim issue had a negligible impact on overall crime statistics. There are no plans to redo paperwork on the misclassified cases unless an arrest is made.

Neubauer said reports of rim thefts in the county "have fallen off the cliff" since the arrests of the rim reapers.

Officials said the crew drove around at night looking for valuable rims and tires they could then sell at a deep discount. Spota said the group even used vehicles to break through car dealership gates and jacked up cars parked in driveways.

All five, including the alleged ringleader, Darren Scales, 24, of Mastic, have pleaded not guilty to counts of grand larceny and other charges. The cases are pending.

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