More than 20 cars were stolen from a car rental company lot at the Portland International Jetport over several months late last year, and police now say the vehicles were used to commit a bevy of crimes, including petty thefts, robbery and suspected interstate drug distribution.

At least two adults and one 15-year-old face criminal charges in connection with the scheme, which police say was perpetrated with the help of a car rental company employee who used his knowledge of the rental lot’s operations to help sneak cars off the lot. Police suspect that more people were involved, including at least one 13-year-old who was found in a jetport hotel parking lot at 3 a.m., standing near two vehicles that had been stolen moments earlier.

The company, Avis, also told police that GPS devices that come standard in some vehicles showed they were taken to destinations in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where they were involved in suspected drug trafficking, police said.

Police say the investigation began in September and stretched into December, but the thieves had a head start because Avis managers at first apparently did not realize the vehicles had been stolen. Only after a full inventory did Avis begin transmitting stolen vehicle reports more promptly, said Portland Police Lt. Robert Martin.

“I’m not sure when the first car was actually stolen and I don’t know if they know exactly,” Martin said. “It was several weeks where a group of cars were missing, and then they started doing an inventory and realized it was more. There are probably more employees who were involved who we think were terminated but weren’t arrested for anything. A couple of cars were found near the suspected employee’s home.”

Moises D. Perez, 19, of Portland, was arrested Oct. 16 and is charged with misdemeanor theft of one of the cars from the Avis lot, as well as assault and trespassing. Perez was wanted in connection with another crime, and when police caught up with him, he was driving one of the stolen vehicles, Martin said.

Abdirahman A. Abdulahi, 24, of South Portland, was charged Oct. 12 by police who spotted a stolen car and stopped it on Harvard Street in Portland. Abdulahi was the only person in the vehicle who did not flee into the woods, likely because he was drunk and asleep in the back seat when the car was stopped, according to police records.

When police woke him up, Abdulahi became combative, and was eventually stunned with a Taser before multiple officers brought him under control. During the struggle, Abdulahi bit Martin on the forearm, drawing blood, according to police records.

Neither man could be located to request an interview, and a reporter could not reach Avis employees at the jetport location.

Abdulahi, who was indicted in January on one felony count of assault on a police officer and one misdemeanor count of refusal to submit to arrest, is due in court Feb. 26. Perez, who has already been arraigned and pleaded not guilty, is due back in court in March.

Police did not identify the 15-year-old who was arrested, but Martin said the teen was known to officers and was wanted on a separate charge when an officer spotted him driving down Congress Street in one of the stolen cars and arrested him.

Martin said police in Portland stopped some of the stolen vehicles for traffic infractions, interacted with the drivers and allowed them to go on their way because the vehicles had not yet been reported stolen. Police are now following up with the drivers of those vehicles and further charges are possible.

After several weeks, however, the perpetrators of the alleged thefts realized that police knew the cars were stolen and began to flee police during traffic stops. Martin said one chase led from Portland into Westbrook and Windham.

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