‘Felony Lane Gang’ probably has left southern Wisconsin, police say
JANESVILLE—Police believe the criminals responsible for smash-and-grab car thefts and subsequent check forgeries have moved to southern Illinois and possibly neighboring states, but they haven't given up hope for an arrest.
Police last month asked the public to help identify a woman from bank camera photographs. The woman was suspected of cashing forged checks that were taken in local smash-and-grab thefts from cars.
Recent images from southern Illinois resemble the same woman, said Lt. Terry Sheridan of the Janesville police investigations unit.
“It looks like they've moved out of this area, at least for now,” Sheridan said.
The methods used in the crimes appear to be the same as that of a group that law enforcement nationwide has labeled the "Felony Lane Gang," Sheridan said.
The nickname stems from the criminals' habit of using the outside lane of bank drive-throughs to cash forged checks.
The two late-model Chevrolet Impalas the woman was seen driving seem to jibe with the Felony Lane Gang tactic of using rental cars.
The local thefts also matched the tactic of targeting cars in parking lots where women might have left their purses.
“It sure does fit the description of that group to a 'T,'” Sheridan said.
Another part of the Felony Lane Gang method is to move on as soon as they feel heat from law enforcement, so that fits, too, Sheridan said.
In Janesville, a theft at a fitness center and one at Traxler Park during a water-ski tournament in June were tied to the photos of the woman cashing checks at a drive-through.
The woman appears to have altered her appearance for various forgery attempts.
Seven car break-ins were reported at Traxler Park, but only one so far was tied to the woman through her use of an identity card or checks stolen, Sheridan said.
There's a good chance that the other thefts at the park are related, Sheridan said.
Other thefts suspected of being connected to the criminal operation started April 26 and included the YMCA in Milton, Woodman's Market in Janesville and Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness locations in Janesville.
Thefts suspected of being connected also were reported in Monona and Jefferson County.
Sheridan said police received tips after extensive publicity from the news media, and one of them might be fruitful. The tip was from someone who might know the woman's identity.
“So we're hopeful that leads to an identification for at least the female, and then of course the hope is additional suspects would be identified, but we're still in the early stages,” Sheridan said.
Meanwhile, those who had their belongings stolen can only wait to see if the thieves use their documents to try to forge checks or withdraw cash with their credit/debit cards.
One of the Janesville victims was recently contacted by an investigator outside of Janesville who suspected the Janesville victim was the thief. That person's ID card had been used to cash a check, Sheridan said.
Sheridan said “Felony Lane Gang” gives the impression that the thieves are part of an organized effort based in southern Florida, where the “gang” was first identified, but that might not be true in this case.
It could be a group that adopted the same methods, Sheridan said.
Jeff Hammer, an intelligence analyst for the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Indiana and a member of the Felony Lane Gang Working Group, said FLG copycats do exist, but they usually don't follow the gang's methods exactly.
“Almost every FLG crew can be tied back to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, or Atlanta area,” Hammer said. “The 'Original FLG' is kind of an ambiguous term because it started as a few people and grew and grew and grew.
“If they break into vehicles at fitness centers, day cares or parks and steal women's purses, followed by cashing the checks of one victim with the driver's license/Social Security card of another victim, it should be considered FLG until determined otherwise,” Hammer wrote.