Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand that authorities have dubbed these defendants members of a group called the “Felony Lane gang,” and have indicated connections between those arrested and multiple other identity-theft defendants based out of Fort Lauderdale.
It’s not clear whether these individuals were part of an actual gang, or whether that’s simply what authorities have chosen to call them, based on the similarity of their alleged crimes. That will be an important distinction for defense attorneys to focus on as the case moves forward, because Florida crimes committed for the furtherance of a gang result in stiffer penalties, per Florida Statute 874.04.
This case in particular stems from a vehicle burglary in Naples. Media reports indicate that the alleged victim parked her vehicle at a local veterinarian’s office and walked inside, leaving her purse behind. That’s when officials say one of the three men grabbed her purse from her unlocked vehicle and sped off.
The three were stopped by police a short time later and arrested.
That act alone would be considered burglary under Florida Statute 810.02. Burglary is defined as simply entering a home, business, structure or vehicle with the intent to commit an offense. So prosecutors don’t have to show that you necessarily took anything or did anything other than enter without permission with the intent of committing a crime.
Police seem to have evidence in this case of actual theft, as investigators found not only the woman’s stolen purse in the suspects’ vehicle, but also wigs, other “burglary tools,” stolen identification and bank addresses punched into the GPS.
Investigators are saying that the greater goal of this group is not so much a purse snatching here or there, but rather an organized effort of identity theft. Authorities say the wigs were intended to disguise the individuals as they entered the bank drive thru.
Individuals of this same operation have reportedly been arrested in Lincoln, Nebraska for nearly identical crimes.
It’s not clear in exactly what way these individuals are connected to one another, aside from the type of crimes they allegedly committed. However, if investigators could prove it was all part of a greater plan to benefit one operation, then gang penalty enhancements could be applied. It does not appear that has been done so far.
A gang enhancement is essentially the imposition of increased penalties for anyone who commits an offense in furtherance of a criminal gang.
So for example, a second-degree misdemeanor can actually be bumped up to a first-degree misdemeanor if prosecutors can show your actions were on behalf of the gang. If you’ve been charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, gang enhancements raise the charge to a third-degree felony. Same goes for every crime associated with a gang, all the way up to a first-degree felony. These are serious felonies that are already punishable by 30 years in prison. With a gang enhancement, you could be sentenced to life behind bars.
The RICO Act is another option under federal law. Used mostly in organized crime cases, the act permits for enhancement penalties, including civil forfeiture.