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Police grab fugitive who led ‘diversion thefts’ in Westwood, elsewhere

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ANOTHER CLIFFVIEW PILOT EXCLUSIVE: A nearly two-year manhunt has ended with the arrest of the accused ringleader of a “diversion theft” crew that swiped more than $45,000 from New Jersey bodegas and convenience stores, including $4,200 from the Westwood Deli & Grocery 16 months ago.

Storeowner Rosa Ramos, Westwood Police Chief Frank Regino, Telemundo reporter, and Torres

Edwin Torres, an illegal Peruvian immigrant with a lengthy rap sheet, is in custody in New York City, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.

Bogota Detective James Sepp identified Torres for Westwood authorities from a similar diversion theft — of $7,000 — a few years ago in his town.

Torres, 42, who at last count had 16 aliases, was arrested in Elizabeth in 2008 and later deported.

But he showed up again in the summer of 2010.

He’s is wanted by several agencies, including the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department — all of whom have been notified and are obtaining detainers. Once they are through with him, they said, Torres will again be turned over to federal authorities.

Torres and his crew also hit convenience stores and bodegas in North Bergen, Lakewood, Plainfield and Linden, investigators said. Their M.O. was to target Hispanic-owned businesses, create a diversion and then swipe a money bag or register receipts.

“They like to hit these places on Monday mornings, when the stores have large amounts of money,” Westwood Detective Robert Saul told CLIFFVIEW PILOT last year. “They particularly like those that wire money for Western Union.”

In this case, he said, the first crew member entered Ramos’s store, asked for change, then watched as the clerk went to the back and brought out a money bag.

Although the “customer” took the change and left, he’d done his job — determining where the money was kept. Soon after, two crew members came in, pretending to not know one another, the detective said.

One of them made a purchase but put only a few dollars on the counter and ran out. The second crew member told the clerk she’d just been taken, then offered to hold the door while she chased after the “thief.”

The second crew member then doubled back into the Washington Avenue store, grabbed the bag and bolted.

As part of a segment on the thefts, “Persiguiendo Injusticias” (Telemundo’s equivalent of “America’s Most Wanted”) interviewed Ramos, who spoke of the devastating effect the loss had on her family.

Soon after, producers of the nationally-televised weekly program gave her a gift of $2,000.




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