❄ Four vehicles have been burglarized while parked at Puddle Duck Pond in Portsmouth.

❄ The thefts follow the pattern of the Felony Lane Gang, which targets vehicles driven by women.

❄ "Portsmouth is a safe city, but is not immune to crime," Deputy Police Chief Michael Maloney said.

While it's a winter wonderland at Strawbery Banke's Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Dock Pond in Portsmouth, some skaters had a harsh return to reality when they got back to their cars.

Portsmouth Deputy Police Chief Michael Maloney told Seacoast Current that four vehicles have been broken into since the end of January, all between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

"There were four cars with their windows broken and content stolen that were inside the vehicle, including cash, credit cards, identification, purses. Things of that nature," Maloney said.

The Felony Lane Gang, a Florida-based group of identity thieves that travel across the United States targeting places where purses are often left in vehicles, are suspected to be involved with the thefts. Members will remove items like checkbooks, credit cards, drivers licenses, and other items in order to commit financial crimes.

"It's consistent with their pattern of behavior, but we don't have anything that directly ties them to this," Maloney said. "But what I can tell you is that we've seen, regionally, similar patterns in southern Maine and the Seacoast. We know historically that the Felony Lane Gang breaks into vehicles, usually by forced entry breaking glass, and targets mostly women's vehicles and women's IDs and checkbooks."

Entrance to Strawberry Banke
Entrance to Strawberry Banke (City of Portsmouth)

Felony Lane Gang Targets Women

The cars in the Puddle Dock Pond theft all belonged to women, according to Maloney. He called it a "crime of opportunity", as most of the vehicles involved are unlocked.

"Somebody might walk down the street late at night and just pull on door handles and if they find one, they'll rummage through the car. In this case, it was a bit different and that all of them actually had the glass broken. And the glass was broken presumably because somebody looked in the car and saw items of value that were in plain view," Maloney said.

The deputy chief said the basics of protecting your vehicle apply: lock your car and protect your valuables. Put purses, laptops, and backpacks in the trunk. If a would-be thief looks in your car and doesn't see anything, they'll probably move on.

Maloney said Portsmouth is a safe city, but is not immune to crime. He said the Strawbery Banke area is especially safe.

Portsmouth is a Safe City

"Strawbery Banke is still a great place to visit and go to the Puddle Dock and go ice skating. This is an isolated incident. But it's still a good reminder for people that even if you're parking in the parking lot of Strawbery Banke, which again is a very safe area, that these things can and sometimes still do happen."

It's not the first time the gang has been in New England.

Two Fort Lauderdale, Florida, men pleaded guilty to their roles in the gang in December, according to United States Attorney Carla B. Freedman of the U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of New York. Joshua Mallory, 37, and Gary Grier, 36, admitted in December that they stole $95,000 between 2015 and 2020 in thefts around the Northeast.

They were involved in thefts in Biddeford, Brunswick, Portland, Saco, Sanford, and York, Maine, as well as Portsmouth and Somersworth in New Hampshire and Salisbury, Massachusetts, according to Freedman.

Portsmouth Police warned about the gang in February 2018 after a warrant was issued for the arrest of a member for two incidents of trying to cash fraudulent checks at banks in December 2017 and January 2018.

Members of the gang were also connected to 10 incidents in just one week in Londonderry and Windham in 2018, according to a NBC Boston report.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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