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Retired Intelligence Unit detective Gary Jenkins interviewed retired NYPD auto theft detective Vic Ferrari about his experiences with the mob and the horrible auto theft problem in New York City. Vic Ferrari has written extensively about the NYPD culture, the mob, and his time in the Auto Theft Unit. Vic Ferrari’s colorful and unique storytelling style entertains and enlightens simultaneously. He grew up on these “mean streets” and knows the Borough neighborhoods like a New York native who spent his career as a cop. Click here to link to Vic’s books.
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GARY JENKINS, Vic Ferrari
He’s parked and this is on a midnight so my lieutenant gets on the radio goes Hey Vic, go up there recover that car and try not to be seen like not to be seen. So I I walk up there the cars running it’s on a midnight I’m in this car. I’m like in a tomb the whole interior has been stripped. So there’s no door handles no nothing. I don’t even know how to get back out of the car. The dashboard is stripped and the interior of the car had been sprayed with WD 40. So so it’s so you can’t recover fingerprints. So now I’m sliding around in this car. I can’t get out of it. And a four seven police car drives by and I said oh shit. If they run my plate, it’s got to come back stolen. I can’t even roll down the windows.
Well, welcome all you wiretappers out there back here in studio gangland wire. And I have an interesting guy to say the least another retired copper just like me. And like I used to say out of the mouths of the men that did it. Well, this is a guy that did it. And now he writes stories about it while he writes fiction, but he uses his real life experiences, of course to tell these fictional stories. Vic Ferrari Welcome Vic.
Gary, thank you so much for having me on your show. I’m a big fan. Great. Well, you
know, when you got hold on me, you said you’d been listen to the podcast for a while and I appreciate that. And we take all the listeners we can and I like to entertain people and I can tell you do too. I looked at some of the clips of you and other shows that are that he likes to entertain people So anyhow vic, I get you were with NYPD and where do you spend most of your career like I spent most of mine with the intelligence unit here in KC would you spend most of your career
for the most part I worked in the Organized Crime Control Bureau which and compartmentalized in the Organized Crime Control Bureau. I worked in the NYPD peds auto crime division as a detective for the last 10 years of my career. Okay,
cool. You retired? And did you start writing before you retired? Or when you get interested in writing? You Ever did you have an English Lit degree at some point in your life?
No, I got a high school diploma. After I retired from the NYPD, I was bored out of my mind and friends and family said you know you got all these wild stories. You know how to tell a story. Why don’t you start writing these things down? And I did and I start I’ve written a series I’ve written six books for which are behind the scenes look at the New York City Police Department, you know, things that people wouldn’t normally think about with with the NYPD.
If you were to recommend one year titles, which one that you like maybe the most proud of or the that you’d like personally yourself?
They’re all my babies. But I would go with Grand Theft Auto the NYPD is auto crime division. That’s everything you wanted to know about the stolen car industry who steals your car caught thieves mindset what happens to your car, the chop shop, how the auto theft industry works insurance fraud, how to protect your vehicle for being stolen, and the scams that caught these used to get your car.
Interesting. You know, we were talking before and you know, I had this guy on a mob guy Mob Associate named Andrew Didonato, folks, you got to go back and search you’ll find that old interviews fun guy and, and he was he was your counterpart. On the other side. He was a mob guy who was stealing cars. And he told a really fun story about a time that that he was back in a car out of his chop shop and the only thing they taken the steering wheel off was Mercedes and it was a real highly desired steering wheel. So it had a pair of channel locks on the nut that that would hold the steering wheel on and mainly like a bunch of the fenders are off of it and he had to put a milk crate or some other seat in there to sit on and he backed out. And then he started driving down the street because he wanted to get it away from there chop shop and NYPD car pulls up behind him and turns red lights on it he ends up in a car chase and he loses them enough that he could bail out and then run through the neighborhoods which got I’d never caught anybody myself. The car chase me one time, but you may need to catch him so you got to experience Just like that,
oh, plenty. I mean it you gotta remember in the 90s, New York City averaged 150,000 stolen vehicles a year. So it was like shooting fish in the barrel. I remember going to like the Hunts Point section of the Bronx and you’d be driving around. And you’d see to heroin addicts drive past you when a car with no glass, the windshield is gone, the back windows gone. Or like you said, the doors like a clown car in the circus like it’s missing major component parts the hood, and they just go by and you’re like what, and by the time you start making that U turn, you’re off to the races and we’re talking about off air. We were doing a case where we had these guys shipping costs to Shanghai and the main, the main facilitator of this case was also chopping cause in his backyard so we were doing a midnight I’m on a rooftop watching this guy’s garage Dodge Caravan goes in there for about an hour or so we run the play to stolen the caravan backs out goes up to White Plains Road and gets parked and this is on a midnight so my lieutenant gets on the radio goes Hey, Vic, go up there, recover that car and try not to be seen like not to be seen. So like I walk up there, the cars running it’s on a midnight I jump into this Dodge Caravan I shut the door it’s running. And then the first thing I realized once I’m in this car, I’m like in a tube the whole interior has been stripped so there’s no door handles no nothing. I don’t even know how to get back out of the car. The dashboard is stripped and the interior of the car had been sprayed with WD 40. So so as to you can’t recover fingerprint. So now I’m sliding around in this car, I can’t get out of it. And a four seven police car drives by and I said oh shit, if they run my plate, it’s going to come back stolen. I can’t even roll down the windows to tell them hey, I’m a cop show my ID they’re gonna wind up pulling me out of the window by my head. The four seven cop comes behind me. I slap it into Drive and I take off. Now I’m getting chased by another police car. I’m trying to get our radio on the correct frequency to tell them to back off and I’m yelling into the radio to my counterpoint. We’re on point by point which is like walkie talkie and I’m telling them go over the air until the fourth seventh and back left. They’re gonna kill me. So finally I lost the police. I can drive I lost them. I drove into way a Metro North commuter parking lot off the Bronx River Parkway and I kicked out the back window of the car. That was the only way I can escape. And I got out and then my friends pull in a couple of minutes late and they’re laughing at me. I’m coughing and glass I’m like shimmy I was got killed
With WD 40. Wow, that’s a heck of a story. You probably had lots of adventures like that in New York, like you said, was probably like shooting fish in the barrel. It’s and especially if you’re a guy that as an eye for a you stolen card. There’s some guys that have an eye for that. Terry Finn was my favorite guy I ever worked with that guy found more stolen cars and found more occupied stolen cards that car chases and everybody else put together. It was unbelievable. So you had that I
think well I grew up in a neighborhood where it was stealing call was a rite of passage. I wasn’t a car thief. But at an early age I worked in a gas station. And there was always guys driving through there with stolen cars either trying to sell parts get gas, and you know, I’d see the broken steering column the punch vent window, the punch door lock you know dirty beat up plates on a brand new car. There’s telltale signs the balloon tire, you know like the tire you get a flat it’s supposed to last 240 miles. Yeah, you know, these guys got caught the four junkies driving around a stolen car, then I gotta go and invest in a tire. They’ll drive that thing until the tire falls off. So things to look for. And yeah, I was always getting into car chases.
Interesting. So in your book, for example. Give us some examples. Some stories out of your book of the NYPD of auto theft Sure. That yeah, I’m sorry, Grand Theft Auto abs. I forgot the name of it, Grand Theft Auto. No, it’s fine.
It’s fine. So I worked in the Bronx office, we had a little bit of the mafia, but our Queens and Brooklyn offices, they basically targeted you know, the Gambino nose Lucchese. Every mafia family had their finger in the pie of auto theft, one way or another, whether they actually owned a salvage yard or a junkyard or a body shop. Other guys would just rent a place like a garage somewhere and hire a couple of guys to steal cars, or they would take a tax Well, if the car thieves would be an associate. So in case they get robbed or screwed with with another family to go to timeout, I’m with Sally bugs or I’m with you know, Joe with the cat so they can’t get ripped off. In the Bronx. John Gotti son in law opened up a scrap metal processor. And it was probably one of the largest on the Eastern Seaboard. I mean, he could have made a legit living operating out of there. But prior to coming to the Bronx, he basically ran the Willets point section of Brooklyn solver by Shea Stadium and now Citi Field. It’s all bought the shops, glass places salvage yard, for you to own and operate a business in there, you have to pay a tax. So with our Queens off His did in Brooklyn office did was they rented out an old junkyard, filled it with cars and started working. And they thought that like, you know, God, his son in law was going to send a couple of guys to threaten them. He showed up. And I mean, the trailer was wired for sound, and he’s telling them, you know, what do you guys nuts can’t just come in here and operate, you got to pay me you got to use my card and company, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So eventually, our Queens guys got into bed with him. And for over a year and a half, they will pay in the tax they will use in the private sanitation company. There was an hour I remember there was a company if you own a junk yard or a salvage yard, you have to you have to have a company come and take your waste oils. So you’re supposed to be dismantling the vehicles on a concrete slab. And so the oils don’t go into the ground. And basically everybody was using this company that wasn’t picking up the oil. They were just giving you a piece of paper in case somebody like puking Jamaica Bay. So when they went all queens office took that down, he wound up getting like nine years.
Interesting. That’s a good one. It’s a guy named Roy DeMeo. That had a big stolen car operation. Do you remember that name?
Oh, sure. I read the book murder machine. It’s an excellent book. Now that that was my office, the Queen’s office of the auto crime division. I think the detectives name was Joe Wendling. There was a bunch of guys, but that was prior to me coming on, because I think Roy DeMeo was killed. I think in 1983. I didn’t get hired by the NYPD by 87. But the funny thing is, like in our auto crime division, we had these file cabinets with and this is before things were computerized. We had file cabinets of index cards, you know, anytime you made an arrest of somebody to do what auto that you are required to fill out these index cards and staple a photo to it. And you know, here I am almost 20 years after, you know, murder machine and Roy DeMeo’s crew. And I remember one time I was out in the Queens office for like, filling in on a midnight. I was like a kid in a candy store, going through these index cards and like, wow, I read about this guy, you know what I mean? So, you know, some kids collect baseball cards. I was interested in organized crime.
interested, I wish I could have worked with you, dude.
Well, I had a fun time,
we would have had a fun time. would have been cool? Well, PD is a big cumbersome organization. And, you know, what, what are the kinds of stories do you talk about in the NYPD and your books? Give us some good looking guy. Find out in there.
Well, this was one of the cases we did was if you have you ever watch Fox News judge Jeanine. Okay, so the Westchester County DA so office started we were getting crushed the tri state area we were getting crushed with our da sixes. They were vanishing. I mean, car dealerships were getting hit on weekends like 10 to 12 Audi A-6s were vanishing. And we knew the cars were being shipped because usually when cars get stolen, they turn up, stripped, chopped, burned. You find the bones of the car at some point or another these you know, we’re getting 30-40 cars stolen a month and they’re not turning up anyway, so we knew they were being exported out of the country. This guy winds up getting grabbed out in the Palisades wall out in Rockland County stealing a BMW he, he owed jail time in Florida. He did not want to go back. So he flipped and gave up the gang. So what was going on was you had a an ex-Chinese or current? I don’t know for sure. We never got a straight answer. But it was a Chinese military official in Brooklyn. He hooked up with this Jamaican guy from the Bronx. And he would order between 25 and 30 Audi A-6s a month. What did you make into all these steel guys in the Bronx. So the Chinese guy would pay the Jamaican five grand a car. The Jamaican would pay the car thieves between $500 and $1,000 a car, they steal the cars, parked them on the street for a couple of days to make sure they did’t have a Low Jack or tracking device. The Chinese had a warehouse out in Brooklyn. So what they would do is they would do it for like first thing in the morning when people go into work like 7:3:0 or 8:00 o’clock in the morning, they’d open the garage, two or three Audis would go in. They close the door inside this and it was a large garage. They would put two stones on Audi’s per shipping container, let the air out of the tires so the vehicle would sit low in the in the truck. Then they would build a frame above it and hoist to one or two cars above it. So they would get two to three cars per stolen container. Then they would have the shipping containers with the stolen vehicles. trucked to Newark, New Jersey when they were put on trains and railed across the United States and then they were shipped out of Long Beach, California, if I remember serves me correctly and then they will go into Shanghai. So we had wiretaps, that’s a great thing about the NYPD, we had Asian cops that spoke Mandarin and Cantonese. So we brought them off patrol and put them in a wire room. So they’re monitoring the Chinese phone calls. A lot of our thieves spoke Spanish. We had several detectives that spoke Spanish monitoring the Spanish guys phone calls. And in addition to this international card deferring, it started becoming apparent that our thieves were in the murder for hire business. So they’re talking about whacking this guy and clipping this guy. So we finally took that case, down, we saw probably about 15 homicides.
Wow, that was a heck of a case. Yeah, it was. Did you guys work on it? How much time do you have to spend like six months? Well,
the funny thing is, these guys were doing it for years. And what would happen was prior to us getting involved in it, the New York State Police and the Westchester County DHS office like a year and a half before we’re on to these guys, they got to close to on the Asian spot and close up shop, they got nothing. But then they waited a year they were patient, they waited a year I hope to have things blow over. By the time we came along. We were on that case for probably about a year, the case probably would have went on longer and gotten more things in it. What blew up the case was the thieves got greedy at the main thief used to be a garage attendant. And we knew this off the wiretap, the main thief called up his friend who was a garage attendant in his garage on the Upper East Side of Manhattan right off the FDR Drive. And he told his friend, listen, how about I come up there with about 10 of my friends next week, I’ll give you three grand. You give us all the keys to the cars we want. We’ll tie up we’ll put you in the trunk. You wait about a half hour and then start making noise in the trunk. We’ll leave you in a car right at the front. You start making noise, someone will let you out of the trunk and you just say a bunch of guys with ski mask came and says All right, so I mean, we film the whole thing. We had a camera outside, watch them go in we watched the cars go out. The last call went into that warehouse. And the night we’ll want the last car went into the warehouse in Brooklyn and the 911 call was going off in Manhattan like at the same time. Pretty cool. So what winds up happening is and it’s like that scene in Goodfellas at the end when Ray Liotta is asking the girl did you make sure you know make sure no one’s on the phone don’t talk on the phone. The main thief Mario is asking his brother in law I think he goes did you make sure those cars were swept and checked for Low Jacks? Because yeah, because no no don’t Yeah, yeah. Did you make sure and he was Yeah, don’t worry about it really didn’t. So the next day, the person goes into the precinct report that car stolen and a low Jack Scott’s pinging. unbeknownst to us in his warehouse in Brooklyn, right? Macy’s doesn’t tell Gimbels in the NYPD. We don’t tell the precinct cops that there’s a warehouse in their precinct because you know, cops are they’re nosy they work. So we don’t tell them anything. You got these to a cop and a lieutenant or a Sergeant go running into this warehouse. And they had a thick wall. They had it it was really set up well, and they didn’t see the cause initially. And they saw these Chinese guys and they gave this bullshit story that it was a toy factory a sudden, the Asians ran out the back door. The cops by the time the cops figured out they had these stolen cars and we call up and say get out of there. So that we had around now the phones are blown up. We had to round up all these guys in a couple of hours. And it’s funny like the two warehouse workers with Chinese. We had thought we had surveillance photos of them. And we knew the block they lived in but we weren’t even really sure what building they lived in. So we me and my partner got assigned to try to find them. And I’ll never forget was circling this neighborhood. I think it was in Bensonhurst and two Chinese guys come walking out of an alleyway with suitcases right? I’m not quite knows what about them. So I slam on the brakes we get we start talking to them and they’re pretending like they don’t speak English. And I put my hand on the guy’s chest. And his heart was going like this. I’m like, All right. What pocket he had plane tickets to Toronto, so they were gone. Yeah, so we had our Chinese detectives who were following them so yeah, that’s them. But I mean they were these guys they had a plan like they were gone and we just happened to pick them off but they were on their way to the airport.
Interesting we, we had we took off a guy with about eight or 10 kilos off the train and we knew kind of where he was gonna end up I had somebody sitting on that place but we didn’t have really any probable cause. And also this guy shows up with this panic look on his face looking everywhere and so my guys say, “Okay, look, do I see him apartment into the building” and so they just jump out and run right in the afternoon they get another two or three kilos, but other stuff so
yeah, You know, in the NYPD, we call that the hairy eyeball. Like when when they spot surveillance did you get that? Look, we got shit. I got the hairy eyeball.
You know, they know that we know. You know what I mean? Yeah. Sometimes you gotta move fast, don’t you? Yeah, before you’re ready. So did you ever let cars go through? I mean, intentionally? Yeah. What was the ethics on that? I mean, how do you make those decisions? I’d let cars run through that that
was that wasn’t made on my level that was made with Westchester County, da ‘s office and our supervisors. When the case came down. I mean, some of those calls were in China, we’re never going to get them back. Some of the some of the cars I do remember one ships out at sea, and they did not drop the cars back. And then when they came back months later, we recovered cars coming back. But now sometimes you got to let the cars go to keep the case going. Yeah, yeah,
I know. It’s always there’s always those ethical decisions that somebody has to make at some level. How much do you let go on until you take it down? And you got to get your case built and get a?
Well, it’s not what Yeah, and it’s not one insurance company. Right. So you’re talking about multiple victims? Yeah. You know what I mean, at the end of the day, letting a couple of cars go, if you’re gonna if you’re gonna knock out an international, you know, crime syndicate that’s shipping 30 cars a month, and, you know, a couple of insurance companies get burned for a couple of cars. Okay, but it could have been a lot worse.
Yeah, yeah. That’s for sure. Well, this is, this is really, really interesting that you got a bunch more stories. I know that.
Oh, yeah. Not only that, like we had a lot of New York’s very diverse, you have a lot of different different ethnic groups, the Dominican Republic, we had a lot of Dominican gangs that were shipping stolen vehicles, heavy equipment. I mean, you name it, they will ship we used to laugh and say we didn’t have the Dominican Republic didn’t sync with the amount of stolen cars and trucks that they used to send over there. And we had an informant that was in a gang of different gangs or thieves. And he would give us stuff. We couldn’t keep up with this guy. He would just call us up all the time and say, I remember one time, he called us up and he said, there’s this little shitty Toyota pickup truck. It’s getting shipped out of Red Hook, Brooklyn, which at the time was like an obscure port didn’t do much shipping. He says there’s a this this Toyota pickup truck has a bunch of guns in it. So we said alright, we call the customs we had to pull it off the ship and content well, I don’t think it was even in the container. But we had them pull it and we go up there. We search this car, nothing. We call them back like listen, we got the Toyota pickup truck, but there’s no guns and and he goes, let me get back to you. About an hour later. He calls us up. He goes, okay. He says, he goes on the front of that. He goes go to the front of the truck. He goes, You know, those vents for the windshield wipers with the little things come out to you know, shoot the water at the windshield. Yeah. Like you’ve taken out the windshield wiper motors. They’re in there. We took out the windshield wiper motors and it was like three four guns wrapped up and oily rags. These guys are ingenious. We also used to do a lot of traps, the secret compartments and like the Dominican guys, they were like Swiss watchmakers with this shit. Like you get into a car, and you start it up, you put it in reverse, put the AC on and hit the fogger. And like the whole dashboard with LIS lift up, and there’d be enough room for a gun or a key what panels would pop out of the back or, you know, the floor, there was a platform built up on the floor. I mean, these guys were ingenious where they were used to hide shit,
ya know those Mexicans and bring it narcotics out for you know, they’re like, welded, no, that goes back, all the way it goes back to French Connection, they welded the end of those different open spaces and cars, they get pretty ingenious and doing that because they got time when they get back up here their body shop.
Wasn’t good to see because I locked up a couple of guys a couple of times a while on federal warrants for like watch traffickers out of Kansas City. So I’m guessing Kansas City is a hub.
Yeah, yeah, we’ll see where it goes kind of on the cocaine highway. I 35 comes right out of the Lorado right straight up into Kansas City. And then we were getting a lot of coke coming on the train from south from Southern California. That’s where we took them off on the train, though it was it’s kind of a crossroads. And from here you go on to Chicago and on farther north, so it’s, especially at i 35. This I can’t even imagine how many millions of dollars went south and and how many pounds and pounds and cocaine came north on 35.
Oh, yeah, I remember early in my career, I locked up a couple of young kids like they were young like 21-22. And I pulled them over and they had fake driver’s licenses. And at first I didn’t know what to do. What am I so I’m just going to run him through the system. And my fault the next day like the phone at the precinct was running, ringing off the hook they wanted out of Kansas City and These two kids and they were kids, but for big time trafficking, like they must have been cartel members and they skipped on a federal indictment wound up in New York. And I, they had the driver’s license. They had just gotten their hands on it. Yeah.
So they were they were Hispanic or Mexican or some Dominican man. Oh, they were Dominican, out of Kansas City. Well, anyhow, so this has been great, Vic, I really appreciate you coming on the show and telling some stories, maybe I could get you to come back with more stories, one of these. That would really be fun. I really appreciate you coming on. And folks, I’m gonna you see his books up there. If you’re on YouTube, you’ve seen the titles of his books and pictures of them. And I’m gonna have links on the in the show notes, and then the notes on my YouTube channel. And so I encourage you to go try one of these books. You try one you may end up buying a ball with this guy maybe got all together. I got six, thanks. Okay. It’s suspect that you’ve got a style that people like if you write like you talk I’m sarcastic. You’re gonna you’re gonna have a style that that will be attracted to a lot of guys that listen to this show or watch this show. I can promise you that, Vic, I really appreciate you coming on. Thank you so much, Gary. Folks, that’s been great. Don’t forget, I ride motorcycles. So watch out for motorcycles when you’re out there driving around. And if you have a problem with PTSD, or you have a friend or relative who has a problem with PTSD, and if you’ve been in the service, go to the VA website and get that hotline number. There’s gonna be help available for you. Thanks a lot, guys. Thanks a lot that
No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you.