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24 charged in connection with export of $6 million in stolen vehicles

NEWARK, N.J. – Twenty-four individuals were charged Wednesday as part of an international car theft ring responsible for the exportation of stolen vehicles to various West African countries. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and its Border Enforcement Security Task Force partners.

Twelve of the 24 charged in three criminal complaints were arrested by federal and state law enforcement agents. One individual was also arrested in Kansas.

The investigation resulted in the recovery of more than 200 vehicles with an estimated retail value of $6 million.

"An elaborate ring of international car thieves has been dismantled through a joint effort by HSI, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Police and our other law enforcement partners," said ICE Director John Morton. "No good comes of organized auto theft. It promotes crime, carjackings and robbery that no community should have to tolerate. This case was particularly troublesome, as it involved not only widespread theft but also repeated abuse of our export laws. Thanks to a terrific federal – state partnership, these defendants will now spend the immediate future answering the call of justice in New Jersey."

According to court documents, the investigation revealed that numerous individuals had illegally exported, or attempted to export, stolen vehicles through the seaports in Newark and Elizabeth, N.J., to various destinations overseas, including to Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Gambia. These vehicles were either stolen or carjacked in various states, including in New Jersey.

The criminal organization's activities involved the theft, carjacking, sale, receipt, transportation, interstate trafficking and illegal exportation of stolen and altered motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts.

At the center of this organization was Hope Kantete, aka "the Lady", a large-scale fence with an extensive customer base overseas. She bought stolen and carjacked vehicles not only from street gang members, but also from other fences, then had the vehicles retagged and shipped overseas or sold them to individuals who would make their own shipping arrangements.

Assisting in the extensive investigation were the New Jersey State Police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray, Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow, the Essex and Hudson County Sheriff's Departments, the Newark Police Department, Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.