Every week, hustlers, hoods, prostitutes, and drug addicts from the Fort Lauderdale area are picked up in just about every corner of the country for running a scam copied from the same playbook. Dubbed the "Felony Lane Gang" by police, these organized crews target unsuspecting victims and steal their drivers' licenses and bank cards or checks. Then, frequently using hair dye and wigs, they or their coconspirators dress up like the victims to gain access to accounts. The crews systematically suck away the victims' funds, sometimes with the help of corrupt allies working inside tag agencies and banks. Just in the past year, 954ers have been busted in Virginia, Ohio, Arkansas, Maine, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Texas. "Why don't they stay down there and break into your cars?" a Lone Star State police official recently wondered aloud.
But the name is a bit of a misnomer. "Gang" suggests a single crime boss somewhere stroking a Siamese cat and directing his minions from a secret lair, or a legion of thugs with some sort of hierarchy. Today, crews pulling off this scam are unconnected bands of drifters laying siege to different corners of the country. Likely, millions of dollars a year are lost to these crews. In the words of a Broward cop who investigated the scheme, it's a national "epidemic," with local police and even the FBI trying to play catch-up. It's gotten to the point that financial institutions now budget for the loss. "We call it bank robbery without a gun," the detective says.
All thanks to Broward. The scam was founded and popularized here by enterprising hustlers from Fort Lauderdale, including a pair of crafty women known to local law enforcement as the "Godmothers." A special task force eventually mopped up early incarnations of the "gang," but Felony Lane lives on. It may be Broward County's single greatest contribution to the criminal underworld.