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DV Pilot police & fire

Westwood store owner gets surprising gift, police hunt theft crew ringleader

Photo Credit: No re-use without hyperlink
Photo Credit: No re-use without hyperlink

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT : As police zero in on the ringleader of a “diversion theft” crew that swiped more than $45,000 from New Jersey bodegas and convenience stores the past six months, one victim received a special gift: A Telemundo reporter gave Rosa Ramos a $2,000 check at her Westwood Deli & Grocery, where $4,200 was taken last September.

Rosa Ramos, Westwood Police Chief Frank Regino, Telemundo reporter (CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO)

Meanwhile, Westwood police gave CLIFFVIEW PILOT a mugshot of an illegal Peruvian immigrant with a lengthy rap sheet who is believed responsible for leading the string of ripoffs.

Bogota Detective James Sepp identified 31-year-old Edwin Torres from a similar diversion theft — of $7,000 — a few years ago, Westwood Detective Robert Saul told the web site.

Torres, who at last count had 16 aliases, was arrested in Elizabeth in 2008 and later deported, then showed up again late last summer. He’s wanted by several agencies, including the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department.

Soon after he is arrested and tried, Torres will again be turned over to federal authorities, police said.

Torres and his crew are believed to have hit convenience stores and bodegas in Lakewood, Plainfield and Linden, in addition to the one in Westwood and another in North Bergen on March 19.

Their M.O. is to target Hispanic-owned businesses, create a diversion and then swipe a money bag or register receipts, Saul told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Ramos, check, Chief Regino (CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTOS: No re-use without hyperlink)


“They like to hit these places on Monday mornings, when the stores have large amounts of money,” Saul said. “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, Saul told the web site.

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.

“They’re up to at least $45,000 in the five jobs we’ve put together,” Saul said Wednesday.

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 began arranging to give her the $2,000, Saul said. A Telemundo crew, along with Westwood Police Chief Frank Regino, was there late Wednesday afternoon to capture the moment.

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