Tow truck driver charged in thefts of disabled vehicles on Route 222

Posted: 1:27 PM EDT Sep 20, 2012   Updated: 5:41 AM EDT Sep 21, 2012
Francis Mercado

A tow truck driver has been arrested on charges he hauled away several broken down vehicles on Route 222 and other area highways and shredded them for scrap.

69 News cameras were with police on the morning of Aug. 21 as they nabbed Francisco Mercado Jr. in the first block of Eberly Street in southwest Reading.

Undercover officers followed Mercado there after watching him pick up a vehicle they set up as a decoy on Route 222 in West Earl Twp., Lancaster Co., police said.

The sting was done in response to reports of numerous disabled vehicles being stolen since July 13 from Route 222 in both Lancaster and Berks counties, along with one on Route 30 in Lancaster County and another on the Warren Street Bypass in Wyomissing, Berks Co., police said.

As a result of the multi-agency investigation, authorities said they learned Mercado,  36, of Lancaster, was an employee of a towing and auto repair company in Reading when he allegedly stole at least 10 vehicles from along the highways and took them to a salvage yard in Berks County, where the vehicles were shredded as scrap metal.

Stolen car in Reading Police announced this week that Mercado was charged with two counts of owning, operating or conducting a chop shop and two counts of theft by unlawful taking.

However, additional charges are pending as the investigation of other thefts continues. In the meantime, Mercado has been committed to the Lancaster County Prison.

The joint investigation involved the Lancaster city police auto theft unit, the Pennsylvania State Police auto theft task force, the Berks County district attorney's office and investigators with the Reading Police Department's auto theft unit.

Below is a list of the stolen vehicles, as provided by the Lancaster Police Department: