NYC block turned into illicit open-air market for migrant crooks, prostitution: ‘It’s relentless’

By Kevin Sheehan and Jorge Fitz-Gibbon

Published April 14, 2024
Updated April 14, 2024, 11:11 a.m. ET

A stretch of Jackson Heights has devolved into an illegal migrant shopping district — an unchecked open-air market where everything from women to stolen goods can be had, The Post has learned.

Roosevelt Avenue near 91st Street is littered daily with migrant vendors hawking goods they ripped off from shopkeepers just steps away, while prostitutes proposition passersby at all hours — and frustrated merchants and residents say they’re helpless to do anything about it.

“It’s relentless,” said Milton Reyes, who manages Mi Farmacia pharmacy on the avenue. “You should see it on Saturdays. It’s so heavy you can’t even step onto the sidewalk. There are a lot of doctor’s offices right around here and my customers don’t even want to get dropped off.

Women standing on the sidewalk near the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and Elmhurst Avenue on April 13, 2024.

Mechanical tools on display near Roosevelt Ave. on April 13, 2024. NYPJ for New York Post

Vendors selling tools on the sidewalk near Roosevelt Ave. NYPJ for New York Post

“I’m not faulting the police,” Reyes added. “They will come by and they will pick up a few of them. But as soon as the police car pulls away they start moving back. Twenty minutes later they’re all set up again like nothing happened.”

Migrant peddlers lay out the stolen merchandise for re-sale at a steep discount, with items as benign as mouthwash, diapers and baby formula spread out on blankets or beach towels right on the sidewalk.

The ill-gotten goods are stored in suitcases packed into vans parked across the street, hauled out for display starting in the morning — with one crooked vendor even wheeling up the items inside a stolen Target shopping cart during one business day this week.

They scattered when a reporter and photographer from The Post showed up, mistaking the news crew for police officers — but were back in business as soon as they passed.

Sex workers openly cruise the street, as older madams sit nearby and point out potential johns as they pass by.

One law enforcement source blamed soft-on-crime laws that severely limit what cops can do and cut low-level, non-violent offenders loose once they get to court.

“Roosevelt Avenue is the microcosm — a perfect storm composed of lunatic legislation that prevents enforcement of laws and the subsequent punitive results,” the source said.

Migrant sidewalk vendors peddle goods shoplifted from retail stores just steps away on Roosevelt Avenue. Stephen Yang

Milton Reyes, manager of Mi Farmacia in Jackson Heights, says shoplifters ransack the store and sell the goods on the sidewalk outside. Matthew McDermott

“Add to that waves of people with nothing to lose and you have criminality and degradation in quality of life for the community — and the city as a whole.”

Open-air prostitution has plagued sections of Roosevelt Avenue for months, with a seedy “Market of Sweethearts” thriving with sex for sale right on the street or inside a series of walk-up buildings now functioning as brothels.

In January, cops moved in and shuttered a dozen of the bordellos for their illegal activity and unsanitary conditions — but it didn’t stop the sleazy sex trade for long.

Migrant vendors sell their stolen goods on blankets and beach towels, which can be picked up and stashed if the police show up. Stephen Yang

In Jackson Heights, the hookers now share the landscape with shoplifting migrants who mob and ransack local retailers then brazenly sell their stolen merchandise for 20% or 30% less just steps from the stores, retailers said.

“They are stealing,” Francisco O’Porta, a security guard at “Lot-Less” told The Post. “They rip it out of the box, but it’s ours. You can see. It is brand new, but they are selling it as used. It’s our stuff.

“They have been training people,” said O’Porta, 55, of Long Island City. “They have lookouts, you know, people to yell so they can pick up and leave when police come. I am catching a lot, a lot of them stealing. I caught 20 people last week. Twenty in one week. They are hurting business.”

“It’s relentless,” one merchant says of the illegal peddling taking place right outside his store — with items stolen from his shop up for sale at a discount. Stephen Yang

From early morning, migrants spread out stolen goods on the sidewalk on Roosevelt Avenue and sell them at a discount while ripped-off retailers can do nothing. Stephen Yang

Customers constantly complain, but shopkeepers’ calls to 311 do little to stop the lawlessness.

“I don’t know what’s ever going to get rid of this,” said one local who would only identify himself as Zhou H. “It’s like a sub-economy. Everybody buys from these guys. There was a few, mostly at night. Kind of like a bazaar. About a year ago, it built up.

“But I thought, these people aren’t getting the kind of opportunities, they need to feed themselves, you know, they’re trying to survive so, whatever,” he said. “About a year ago, there’s five of them, starting at 10 in the morning. Then 10 of them and then there’s 20 of them all day. At night? Forget about it!

“It’s just become normal,” he added.