Criminal charges were dropped Friday against a Bronx man who was accused of being a member of a band of car thieves who stole hundreds of vehicles in New York City and Westchester County over two years.

Criminal possession of stolen property and other felony charges against Edwin Hidalgo Estevez were dismissed in a hearing during which a judge suggested Hidalgo Estevez’ name be redacted from all the records pertaining to the case.

“This is a judge’s nightmare,” said Bronx Criminal Court Judge Ralph Fabrizio. “It’s a prosecutor’s nightmare. It’s a defendant’s nightmare. Nobody wants anything like this to happen.”

Prosecutors said they had arrested another man who fit the initial description of the suspect.

State Attorney General Letitia James and the NYPD announced Sept. 21st they had arrested Hidalgo Estevez, 31, along with nine other people, for reprogramming vehicles’ computer systems with bootleg codes found on the internet and creating illegally replicated electronic keys to access their cars.

Edwin Hidalgo Estevez
Edwin Hidalgo Estevez (Obtained by Daily News)

The 303-count indictment came after a two-year joint investigation by the Office of the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force the NYPD’s Auto Crime Division, officials said.

The crime ring went into high gear between April and October of 2020 when cars sat parked on streets for weeks on end as many New Yorkers stayed home during the height of the pandemic in the New York City area. The crew was able to make off with 45 cars in six months in the city and Westchester County.

Hidalgo Estevez was sleeping in his Bronx apartment around 6 a.m. Sept. 20 when about 20 NYPD officers banged on his on his door, he told the Daily News.


The officers told him they had a warrant for his arrest but did not show it to him. At his arraignment in Bronx Criminal Court later that day, he still did not know what he was being charged with, Hidalgo Estevez said.

“Once I was released, I saw the news coverage and figured out what was going on,” Hidalgo Estevez said through a Spanish interpreter.

Hidalgo Estevez has been living in the United States for three years on a work visa.


Before the pandemic, he supported his wife and two-year-old child in the Dominican Republic off money he made working as a carpenter before he was laid off due to COVID-19. He has been working as an Uber driver in Yonkers since.

When Hidalgo Estevez retained attorney Oliver Storch to represent him in the matter, the lawyer required the New York Attorney General’s Office to provide him with photos of who they were purporting to be Hidalgo Estevez.

Storch and his team of lawyers needed just a couple of hours to determine his client was not who law enforcement believed him to be.


“It’s a sad situation where you have an investigation for 2 1/2 half years and the Attorney General’s Office gave us what’s called their ‘greatest hits’, or their best evidence,” said Storch. “They’re investigating video, audio, stills, informants and they still couldn’t ascertain they had the wrong person.”

Their “greatest hit,” Storch said, was a still photo of a man with a full head of black hair who law enforcement officials said was Hidalgo Estevez. Storch proved Hidalgo Estevez, however, had shaved his head just four days before the damning surveillance photos were obtained at the scene of one of the car thefts.

“Not all people of color look the same,” said Storch. “(Hidalgo Estevez) came to the United States to live the American dream and it’s turned into the American nightmare.”

Prosecutors said they moved quickly to right the wrong.

“We went far beyond photographic information provided by the defense,” said Assistant Deputy Attorney General Ann Lee. “We are no longer confident in the accuracy of the evidence against Edwin Hidalgo Estevez.”

News of Hidalgo Estevez’s arrest spread through the Dominican Republic like wildfire and his father caught the first flight to New York to help his son through the legal process he was facing.

“I’ve been devastated since it happened. Psychologically, I’m not doing well,” Hidalgo Estevez said. “I can’t sleep. I’m very worried and I’m worried about my reputation. My family is a very honorable family in the Dominican Republic. My sister is a doctor. I’m worried my reputation is being taken through the mud.”


Hidalgo Estevez was facing a maximum of 15 years behind bars and hopes he will be compensated for the embarrassment caused him and his family.

“How do I clean my record now? How do I get rid of this shadow that will live with me for the rest of my life? This was all over the news not only here, but in the Dominican Republic. How do I get my reputation back?”

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