9.19.12 Rt. 222 Auto Thefts Arrest

18 September 2012 by Lt. Todd Umstead

In August 2012 The Lancaster City Police Auto Theft Unit was contacted by the West Earl Township Police Department in regards to several thefts of disabled vehicles from Route 222. As members of the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office Auto Theft Task Force, the detectives with LCPD’s Auto Theft Unit had unique training and experience that was suited to assisting in the investigation. After reviewing the thefts in West Earl Township, as well as other thefts that were determined to have occurred on Rt. 222 and Rt. 30 in Brecknock Township, East Cocalico Township, East Lampeter Township, Ephrata Township, Manheim Township, Spring Township (Berks County) and Wyomissing Borough (Berks County) the detectives of the Auto Theft Unit placed a decoy vehicle on Rt. 222 southbound in the area of Farmersville Rd, West Earl Township. On August 21st, while conducting surveillance, the decoy vehicle was placed on a black rollback style tow truck and driven to J&J Towing and Auto Repair, 20 Eberly St, Reading PA. Detectives from the Auto Theft Unit followed the truck to the location and requested the assistance of the Pennsylvania State Police and Reading City Police. The vehicle was secured and the driver of the tow truck was arrested.  The driver was identified as:

Francisco Mercado Jr.   36-year-old male

700 blk. Manor St.  Lancaster PA

As a result of the events on August 21, 2012 Mercado was charged by Detective Stephen Owens of the Lancaster City Police Auto Theft Unit with:

(1) count of Owning, Operating, or Conducting a Chop Shop  (F2)

(1) count of Theft by Unlawful Taking (F3)

Mercado was committed to Lancaster County Prison on $100,000.00 cash bail.

A joint investigation was launched involving the Lancaster City Police Auto Theft Unit and the Pennsylvania State Police Auto Theft Task (Central), which included troopers from the Pennsylvania State Police, a detective from the Berks County District Attorney’s Office, and investigators from the Reading City Police Department Auto Theft Unit. As a result of the investigation it was learned that Mercado was an employee of J&J Towing and Auto Repair at the time of the incident on August 21, 2012. It was also learned that of the vehicles stolen from Rt. 222 and Rt. 30, the below listed vehicles had been taken by the tow truck owned by J&J Towing and Auto Repair to a salvage yard in Berks County where they had been shredded as scrap metal:

13 Jul 2012-         1991 Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup truck  (Rt 222  West Earl Township)

18 Jul 2012-         1996 Plymouth Breeze sedan  (Rt 222  East Cocalico Township)

30 Jul 2012-         1996 Volkswagen Jetta sedan   (Rt 222  East Cocalico Township)

31 Jul 2012-         2001 Chevrolet Cavalier coupe (Rt 222  West Earl Township)

08 Aug 2012-      1996 Ford Windstar minivan  (Rt 222 Brecknock Township)

11 Aug 2012-      2002 Chevrolet Cavalier   (Rt 222 Manheim Township)

15 Aug 2012-      1993 Chevrolet 1500 pickup truck  (Rt 222 Manheim Township)

17 Aug 2012-      1998 Chevrolet Cavalier  (Rt 30  East Lampeter Township)

In addition there were two vehicles stolen from Berks County:

08 Aug 2012-      1994 Ford Escort  (Warren Street Bypass, Wyomissing)

09 Aug 2012-      1992 Ford Escort ( Rt 222, Spring Township)

On Aug. 27, 2012 additional charges were filed by Det. Stephen Owens. Francisco Mercado was charged with:

(1) ct.    Owning, Operating, or Conducting a Chop Shop  (F2)

(1) ct.    Theft by Unlawful Taking (F3)

The above charges related to the theft of the 1993 Chevrolet 1500 pickup truck taken from Rt. 222 in Manheim Township on August 15, 2012. Mercado had posted bail and it was learned that Mercado had provided false information relating to his address. With the assistance of the bail bondsman and information received from the community, Mercado was arrested in the area S Prince St and Conestoga St. at about 3:00 p.m. Sept. 17, 2012. He was arraigned by MDJ Cheryl Hartman and committed to Lancaster County Prison on $20,000.00 cash bail for the new charges.

The investigation continues into the other thefts and the destruction of the vehicles. Additional charges are anticipated as the investigation progresses.

The Lancaster City Police Auto Theft Unit, as well as the Pennsylvania State Police Auto Theft Task Force, Berks County District’s Attorney’s Office, and Reading City Police Auto Theft Unit, are funded in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority (ATPA). For more information about the ATPA you can visit their website at www.watchyourcar.org.