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Authorities in Texas suspect Chicago-based crew of car rental thieves are connected to West Town shooting

A car that was fraudulently rented in Texas was used in the brazen shooting in West Town last month, according to Texas court documents

Chicago police work the scene where multiple people were shot near the Grand Avenue, Halsted Street and Milwaukee Avenue intersection, in the West Town neighborhood, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. 
Chicago police work the scene where multiple people were shot near the Grand Avenue, Halsted Street and Milwaukee Avenue intersection, in the West Town neighborhood on Sept. 29.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Investigators believe a brazen shootout that shocked the city and left multiple bystanders injured in West Town late last month is tied to a crew of rental car thieves who used bogus information to rent cars in Dallas and drove them to Chicago where they’d be sold.

A detective with the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport police asserted his belief that “people involved in the fraud conspiracy are also involved in the shooting which occurred in Chicago,” according to an affidavit seeking a search warrant that was filed Oct. 7.

The shocking scene played out Sept. 29 in the midst of rush-hour traffic as two gunmen hung from the window of a silver Audi and fired shots near Grand and Milwaukee avenues at a vehicle they were chasing, according to the affidavit, which cites a Chicago police report about the shooting.

The Audi used in the shooting had been fraudulently rented Sept. 16 in the Dallas area, according to the affidavit filed by detectives in Texas who last month stumbled upon a single case of rental fraud that blossomed into what appears to be a much larger scheme.

Law enforcement antenna quickly went up after receiving a call Sept. 9 from a car rental company employee at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport about a man trying to use fraudulent information to rent a vehicle.

Five Chicago-area residents — four men and one woman — were quickly taken into custody. A slew of fake IDs and credit cards were found in their fraudulently rented car. Multiple key fobs were also recovered, according to the affidavit.

Each was charged with fraudulent possession and use of IDs, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, fraudulent possession and use of credit card and debit card information, vehicle theft and engaging in organized crime.

Authorities in Texas couldn’t immediately provide bail information, but according to a KXAS-TV report, all five were released on bond several days after their arrest.

One of the men told investigators he was in Texas to assist in transporting the fraudulently rented vehicles back to Chicago where they would be sold. He said their current haul included between 10 and 15 vehicles — all located at a hotel he refused to name, according to the affidavit.

Police put the word out to car rental companies and soon received information about multiple cars that were recently stolen.

Officers located one batch and found a locksmith who’d been hired to rekey the cars by a man with a 773 area code who claimed he bought the cars for his mother but lost the keys.

Another man who was arrested admitted to using the phone app Telegram to communicate with “Zoe God” — a term used on the street to denote the fraudulent “kingpin” of an organized crime group.

The affidavit submitted to a judge in Tarrant County, Texas, on Oct. 7 was seeking access to the cellphone of one of the men who was arrested.

On the day of the shooting, investigators in Chicago reached out to their counterparts in Texas to let them know a rental car from Texas had been used in the shooting, according to the affidavit.

Chicago police have made no arrests in the case and on Tuesday declined to provide an update on the investigation or comment on information included in the affidavit.

Police in Chicago cataloged 30 bullet casings and noted that stray bullets hit several parked cars and entered surrounding apartments, according to the affidavit.

Four bystanders, including a passenger inside a rideshare vehicle, were wounded. Another person described as a suspect was also wounded.