A tow truck driver has been arrested on charges he hauled away several broken down vehicles on Route 222 and other area highways and shredded them for scrap.
69 News cameras were with police on the morning of Aug. 21 as they nabbed Francisco Mercado Jr. in the first block of Eberly Street in southwest Reading.
Undercover officers followed Mercado there after watching him pick up a vehicle they set up as a decoy on Route 222 in West Earl Twp., Lancaster Co., police said.
The sting was done in response to reports of numerous disabled vehicles being stolen since July 13 from Route 222 in both Lancaster and Berks counties, along with one on Route 30 in Lancaster County and another on the Warren Street Bypass in Wyomissing, Berks Co., police said.
As a result of the multi-agency investigation, authorities said they learned Mercado, 36, of Lancaster, was an employee of a towing and auto repair company in Reading when he allegedly stole at least 10 vehicles from along the highways and took them to a salvage yard in Berks County, where the vehicles were shredded as scrap metal.
Police announced this week that Mercado was charged with two counts of owning, operating or conducting a chop shop and two counts of theft by unlawful taking.
However, additional charges are pending as the investigation of other thefts continues. In the meantime, Mercado has been committed to the Lancaster County Prison.
The joint investigation involved the Lancaster city police auto theft unit, the Pennsylvania State Police auto theft task force, the Berks County district attorney's office and investigators with the Reading Police Department's auto theft unit.
Below is a list of the stolen vehicles, as provided by the Lancaster Police Department:
- July 13, 2012 - 1991 Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup truck from Route 222 in West Earl Twp., Lancaster Co.
- July 18, 2012 - 1996 Plymouth Breeze sedan from Route 222 in East Cocalico Twp., Lancaster Co.
- July 30, 2012 - 1996 Volkswagen Jetta sedan from Route 222 in East Cocalico Twp., Lancaster Co.
- July 31, 2012 - 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier coupe from Route 222 in West Earl Twp., Lancaster Co.
- Aug. 8, 2012- 1994 Ford Escort from the Warren Street Bypass in Wyomissing, Berks Co.
- Aug. 8, 2012 - 1996 Ford Windstar minivan from Route 222 in Brecknock Twp., Lancaster Co.
- Aug. 9, 2012 - 1992 Ford Escort from Route 222 in Spring Twp., Berks Co.
- Aug. 11, 2012 - 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier from Route 222 in Manheim Twp., Lancaster Co.
- Aug. 15, 2012 - 1993 Chevrolet 1500 pickup truck from Route 222 Manheim Twp., Lancaster Co.
- Aug. 17, 2012 - 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier from Route 30 in East Lampeter Twp., Lancaster Co.