Attack on BMW Seller Shows Hazards of E-Commerce, Police Say
By AL BAKER
Published: January 28, 2011
Since its beginnings, the Internet has been praised as an easy way to bring buyers and sellers together, for inexpensive household trinkets, high-end diamonds or even $46,000 sports cars. But with this convenience have come dangers — as demonstrated when Akeem Ajimotokan was found Wednesday, stabbed and stuffed in the trunk of his BMW M3 coupe.
Mr. Ajimotokan had put his car for sale online. But he also, in a sense, was telling the world: Come and get it. Investigators say an ex-convict named Barion A. Blake did just that.
“This is expected to happen more and more, because of the anonymity of the Internet,” said Michael A. L. Balboni, who was a top public safety aide to two governors. “When you think about it, it gives the bad guys the opportunity to case the joint without having to do anything. They can sit home and basically do surveillance on who’s got what to sell. And there is no vetting that you can do, or that is done.”
Put another way, by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly: “The Internet is just a miraculous development in our lives, but it certainly has great potential to be misused for crime.”
It was unclear if Mr. Ajimotokan, 33, had sold a car over the Internet before.
His sister-in-law, Alice Ajim, 40, reached by telephone at her home in Texas, said that Mr. Ajimotokan, a lawyer working in the procurement office of Columbia University, had been born in Nigeria, and that she and her husband, Ayo Ajim, were preparing for a flight to New York.
“My husband saw him 10 days ago,” Ms. Ajim said. “He is a family-loving man, very conscientious, loved everyone, happy-go-lucky, and very friendly.”
On Friday, Mr. Ajimotokan was in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Harlem Hospital, Sylvia White, a spokeswoman, said. Mr. Kelly said that he was on a ventilator and that detectives had yet to speak to him.
Investigators say they believe that Mr. Blake went to Mr. Ajimotokan’s home in New Jersey on Tuesday, after reaching him at the phone number listed with his advertisement on Cars.com, possibly posing as a buyer. “There were, at least, discussions about a sale,” Mr. Kelly said.
At some point, investigators suspect, Mr. Blake assaulted Mr. Ajimotokan and stole the car, though in what order is unclear.
At 3 a.m. Wednesday, a Nassau County police officer saw the BMW on the side of Jericho Turnpike with a man, believed to be Mr. Blake, outside, apparently changing the license plate, and another, unidentified man inside. The BMW sped away.
Investigators say they believe that Mr. Blake then went to his apartment on Tenth Avenue in Manhattan and told his wife, “ ‘I did something that could send me back to prison,’ ” said a law enforcement official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss a continuing investigation.
At 9:10 a.m. Wednesday, the BMW crashed into a yellow cab in Inwood, in Upper Manhattan, and the driver, who the police say they believe was Mr. Blake, fled. Mr. Ajimotokan, badly wounded and with one ear nearly severed, was found in the trunk, where he is believed to have been confined through much of the frigid night.
Mr. Blake’s image was later picked out in a photo array as that of the man at the scene of the accident. His name was also on a bill of sale found in the BMW. As of Friday night, he remained at large.
Of course, Mr. Ajimotokan is not the first seller of something expensive to come to harm: Beginning long before the Internet, those using the want ads have sometimes met with bad luck. But the Internet has increased the potential hazards of such encounters.
As Vernon J. Geberth, a former Bronx homicide commander, wrote in his textbook “Practical Homicide Investigation,” which is used to train detectives in hundreds of police departments: “The Internet has provided criminals and those with bad intentions a whole new arena to play in.” And it is an arena, he wrote, in which “law enforcement has yet to gain an upper hand.”
The landscape of online offenders is broad. Among them, Mr. Balboni said, are people sending nasty anonymous e-mails, hackers, terrorists and “some guy on Craigslist trying to rip you off.”
In the case of the attempted car bombing in Times Square in May, the sport utility vehicle used as a delivery device had been bought over the Internet. Its seller told investigators that she had sold the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder to a man — identified as Faisal Shahzad — who had answered her online advertisements, met her in a supermarket parking lot, bargained the price down and paid with $100 bills.
“It’s not ‘black market’ but rather a ‘back-door-market,’ ” said Mr. Balboni, who introduced legislation on cyber-security more than five years ago when he was a state senator. “And that provides a lot less transparency as to who is the buyer and who is the seller. This definitely creates the potential for people who want to do bad things to people, to have access to people they might otherwise not have any other idea exist.”
Mr. Kelly urged anyone using social networks or “one of these trading networks” to use care, and common sense, particularly when making a deal involving a “significant amount of money.”
He said people should vet potential buyers, even if it slowed the process.
Mr. Geberth suggested having meetings with such strangers only “in a public place, with people around as witnesses.” Also, he advised taking a friend along.
Mr. Kelly said any Internet transaction called for “a sort of special vetting, an examination, to the best you can, of who you’re dealing with.”
‘There’s an awful lot of hucksterism going on, on the Internet, as it grows and expands, as social networks grow and expand,” he added.
“There’s a tremendous potential for misuse, so we all have to sort of take a deep breath and step back from transactions that are going to significantly impact on your life.”
Toby Lyles and Noah Rosenberg contributed reporting.