Crime and Safety

NYC teens carjacked and kidnapped robbery victims after luring them with Facebook ad: FBI

A pair of Bronx teenagers came up with a new twist on an old social media scam to launch a Facebook-fueled kidnapping and carjacking spree, they confessed to the FBI — and it could put them behind bars for life.

The terrifying trickery, detailed in a nine-page complaint filed to the Southern District of New York by FBI Special Agent Justin Gray, appears to be the latest in a string of crimes orchestrated on Facebook Marketplace, the social media giant’s popular peer-to-peer sales platform.

But unlike previous cases in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Detroit, Mich., and New Haven, Conn. — where thieves posed as buyers to steal cars that innocent Facebook users offered for sale — the Bronx duo flipped the script, luring their victims with a fake online ad.

According to the complaint, Diante Fernandes, 19, and 18-year-old Mark Francis advertised a red 2019 Hyundai Ioniq for sale on Facebook Marketplace, posing as a seller named “Tagem.”

A victim, not named in the complaint, responded and arranged to meet Tagem for a test drive on Highland Avenue in Yonkers, a residential street of low-rise apartment buildings and old Victorian homes, on the evening of Sept. 26.

While there is a national trend of thieves posing as buyers to steal cars advertised for sale on Facebook Marketplace, the Bronx teens flipped the script, luring their victims with a fake online ad.
While there is a national trend of thieves posing as buyers to steal cars advertised for sale on Facebook Marketplace, the Bronx teens flipped the script, luring their victims with a fake online ad.

The victim and a companion drove to the location in a Honda belonging to one of the two. There they allegedly met Fernandes, Francis and an unidentified third man.

All five took a short drive in the red Hyundai, then returned to Highland Avenue to discuss the sale. There, according to the complaint, one of the supposed sellers pulled a black handgun, pointed it at the two victims and forced them back into the car.

As one of the thieves drove the group around Yonkers, his armed accomplice allegedly took the victims’ cellphones, wallets and the keys to their Honda before dumping the victims at the busy intersection of Nepperhan and Yonkers avenues, about a mile away. Neither victim was injured.

Fernandes and Francis allegedly first advertised a 2019 red Hyundai Ioniq, like the one above, for sale.
Fernandes and Francis allegedly first advertised a 2019 red Hyundai Ioniq, like the one above, for sale.
Shutterstock / JulieStar
During a test drive on Highland Avenue in The Bronx, according to the FBI complaint, one armed thief forced the victim into the back of the car while the other took the victims' cell phones, wallets and keys.
During a test drive on Highland Avenue in the Bronx, according to the FBI complaint, one armed thief forced the victims into the back of the car while the other took their cellphones, wallets and keys.
J.C.Rice

On Sept. 27, Fernandes and Francis allegedly pulled the same scam, again using the red Hyundai as bait. This time, the meeting place was set for leafy Sycamore Avenue, a narrow street of well-kept homes in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

The victim and a companion arrived in a 2021 Toyota RAV4, the Riverdale Press reported. But when they met the two faux sellers for their planned test drive, the thieves are said to have pulled out a black handgun and taken the victims’ wallets, phones and car keys.

According to the complaint, Fernandes and Francis then kidnapped one victim, forcing him into the Toyota at gunpoint, and drove off — leaving the other victim, and the red Hyundai, behind.

Bronx teenagers Diante Fernandes, 19, and Mark Francis, 18, could go to prison for life after the FBI has charged them with using car ads on Facebook Marketplace to lure victims they then kidnapped, carjacked and robbed.
Bronx teenagers Diante Fernandes, 19, and Mark Francis, 18, could go to prison for life after the FBI charged them with using car ads on Facebook Marketplace to lure victims they then kidnapped, carjacked and robbed.
Getty Images
The next day, Fernandes and Francis allegedly pulled the same scam on different victims, for a test drive in the Riverdale section of The Bronx.
The next day, Fernandes and Francis allegedly pulled the same scam on different victims, for a test drive in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

For the next three hours, Fernandes and Francis allegedly drove their hostage “around the New York City area,” stopping twice at different banks and forcing him to withdraw a total of $6,000 from his credit card account. They left him, unharmed, in New Hyde Park in Long Island, according to a local news account.

In the meantime, the Yonkers victims and the one left stranded in Riverdale had alerted police. When Fernandes and Francis drove the Toyota to the Bronx site where they’d stashed the stolen Honda, cops were waiting.

Inside the RAV4 was a loaded Sarsilmaz Sar9 handgun, one of the four stolen phones and the keys to the purloined Honda. Both teens were placed under arrest and, according to the FBI’s Gray, admitted taking part in the spree.

The teens were arrested after police found a loaded handgun, one of four stolen phones and keys to a purloined Honda in the duo's 2021 Toyota RAV4 (like the one above).
The teens were arrested after police found a loaded handgun, one of four stolen phones and keys to a purloined Honda in the duo’s 2021 Toyota RAV4 (like the one above).
Shutterstock / Steve Lagreca

The two, who appeared before Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy on Sept. 28, have been detained on charges of carjacking, kidnapping, conspiracy, firearms possession and Hobbs Act robbery — a federal statute applying to crimes that interfere with interstate commerce. They face maximum sentences of life in prison if convicted on all charges.

FBI analysts warned in 2018 that “violent criminal actors” are “very likely” to use Facebook Marketplace and similar platforms to target victims, according to a ProPublica report released in September.

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