TOTOWA, N.J. — Twenty-nine people were charged by the N.J. Attorney General Thursday following the takedown of a major international carjacking and stolen car trafficking ring. The ring stole luxury cars in New Jersey and New York and shipped the cars to West Africa where they were resold for large profits. U.S. Immigration and Custom's Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), along with multi-agency teams, arrested 23 of those individuals Thursday on racketeering, carjacking and money laundering charges. Six fugitives remain at large.
Approximately 160 stolen cars worth more than $8 million were recovered during "Operation Jacked," a 10-month joint HSI investigation led by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police, along with the Port Authority of New York, the New Jersey Police and 12 other agencies.
Law enforcement recovered approximately 140 cars ports in New Jersey and New York where members of the ring delivered them for shipment.
The ring targeted high-end vehicles – particularly luxury SUVs – made by Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Honda, Porsche, Jaguar and Aston Martin. Twenty-seven of the recovered vehicles were taken via carjackings, and a majority of those attacks involved a gun or other weapon. The defendants used electronic keys or key fobs, critical to the resale value of the care, to steal the vehicles from various locations.
Within the ring, individuals filled various roles, including carjacker, car thief, wheel man, fence, shipper and buyer. Carjackers and thieves were typically paid $4,000 to $8,000 for a stolen car by street-level fences, who then sold cars up the chain to higher-level fences. Shippers then loaded the stolen cars into shipping containers, which were taken to ports for transport by ship to West Africa.
Acting N.J. Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced the arrests at Totowa State Police Station with State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes, Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig, HSI Newark Special Agent in Charge Andrew McLees, Superintendent Michael Fedorko of the Port Authority Police Department and representatives of the other partnering agencies.
"It is rare that an international criminal organization is so closely linked to violence on the streets of America. Thanks to an exceptional relationship between HSI, the New Jersey State Police and our local partners, this intricate international auto theft organization has been dismantled," said Andrew McLees, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Newark. "This group, responsible for more than 160 auto thefts, has been victimizing our community for more than a year. It is through a great federal-state partnership that these criminals were investigated and are ultimately facing justice."
"Carjackers are driven to steal and even to murder by the demand that exists for luxury stolen vehicles," said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. "This ring we took down was a double threat. Its members committed carjackings that put the public in grave danger, while at the same time, through their fencing and shipping operations, they created demand that motivated others to commit carjackings. We hit them hard from both ends, completely dismantling their operations."
Theft crews used various methods to steal cars, including carjacking, often using guns and weapons to commit the carjacking. Carjackers would often target victims by bumping their vehicles from behind on the highway and when victims stopped the carjackers would take their vehicle. The thieves allegedly always tried to obtain keys or key fobs to each vehicle.
Thefts also occurred at carwashes and airports when drivers would leave cars running while unloading items. The thieves stole cars from manufacturers, as the vehicles sat on carrier-trailers, and from car dealerships. They also held up valets to get keys and vehicles, or grabbed keys from valet boxes. Thieves also searched wealthy neighborhoods and found high-end cars unlocked with key fobs in the glove box. In other cases, individuals in the ring obtained cars through fraud, using bad checks to purchase cars from new and used car dealerships.
"The more we learn about the sophisticated pipeline between the supply and demand for stolen luxury cars, the better we can choke off that route and disrupt the flow," said Colonel Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. "The scope of those arrested and charged shows just how organized this dangerous criminal enterprise had become."
After vehicles were stolen, the theft crew typically would store or "cool off" the cars at various locations, including hospital parking garages, parking garages, residential backyards, warehouses and private storage garages, to make sure they were not equipped with tracking devices that would lead law enforcement to them. Other times, members of the ring removed tracking devices from the cars. After a vehicle was sufficiently "cooled," it was moved to a "fence."
The stolen cars typically moved through at least two levels of fences before reaching their ultimate destinations. Fences often used "wheel men" to move the stolen cars to different locations while negotiating purchase prices with other fences and potential buyers. The wheel men would move cars to and from storage locations, to shipping locations and to buyers. While some cars were sold domestically, including in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts, most of them were shipped overseas.
Shippers arranged for the stolen cars to be loaded into shipping containers and transported to ports. They completed false bills of lading, misrepresenting the container contents. Of the roughly 160 vehicles recovered, 140 were recovered at ports, including Port Newark, Port Elizabeth and Howland Hook Seaport in Staten Island.
Investigators believe additional vehicles were being moved by this criminal enterprise, beyond those recovered in the investigation. The ring operated in multiple counties in New Jersey, including Essex, Union, Morris, Monmouth, Middlesex and Bergen counties.
"We are joining forces to fight carjacking, which has reached epidemic proportions in some areas," said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. "In this ongoing investigation, we used cutting-edge investigative techniques to infiltrate a transnational auto theft and trafficking enterprise.Â By locking up carjackers as well as ringleaders who were shipping stolen cars to a lucrative market overseas, we have made our streets and our communities safer."
"Through our multi-agency cooperation and good investigative police work, we've been able to stop a major auto trafficking ring that preyed on the traveling public," said Port Authority Chief Security Officer Joseph Dunne. "These arrests are evidence of the priority we place on the safety and security for the millions of customers we serve each year."
Seven men face charges for leading an auto theft trafficking network, racketeering, money laundering and fencing. They are all in custody.
- Leon Nii-Moi, 35, of Roselle
- Kyle Champagnie, 27, of Irvington
- Saladine Grant, 39, of Irvington
- James Hemphill, 41, of Belleville
- Omar Smith, 39, of Newark
- Demarco Sparks, 40, of Newark
- Deandre Stevenson, 41, of Newark
Three men also face racketeering, fencing and receiving stolen property charges. Two men are in custody, and a third is being sought as a fugitive. His name is being withheld.
- Yves Augustin, 24, of Rahway
- Kurtis Bossie, 22, of Newark.
Three men also face racketeering, fencing and either money laundering or receiving stolen property charges for their roles as shippers. Two are in custody. Kojo Marfo remains a fugitive.
- Standford Oduro, 61, of Bloomfield
- Kojo Marfo, 47, of Newark
- Ahmad Nasidi, 33, of Newark
The remaining defendants face a variety of racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, receiving stolen property and fencing charges.
Four men allegedly acted as high-level fences.
- Terrell Savage, 44, of Newark
- Ibn Traynham, 37, of Newark
- Daniel Hunt, 36, of East Orange
- Steve McGraw, 34, of Newark
Four men face charges as alleged street-level fences. Two have been arrested, and the other two are being sought as fugitives. Their names are being withheld.
- Abdur Abdullah, 32, Tuckerton
- Kyle Botts, 33, of Newark
Eight men allegedly acted as carjackers, car thieves and/or wheel men. Six have been arrested. The other two are being sought as fugitives, and their names are being withheld.
- Malik Baker, 20, of Vauxhall
- Nathaniel Barnes, 31, of Irvington
- Kevin Burton, 34, of Newark
- Abdul Dailey III, 33, of Montclair
- Johnnie Davila, 26, of Newark
- Terrell Waller, 25, of Newark
First-degree racketeering and first-degree money laundering carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
The following agencies assisted in Operation Jacked, under the leadership of the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice: HSI Newark (Border Enforcement Security Task Force), Port Authority of New York, the New Jersey Police Department, the Union County Prosecutor's Office, Essex County Prosecutor's Office, Massachusetts State Police, the Delaware State Police, the Connecticut State Police, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, the Manalapan Police Department, the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Bayonne Police Department, the Hudson County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. MarshalsService. Valuable assistance also was provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The individuals arrested remain in jail with bond amounts ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. The charges against the defendants are allegations and each man is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because they are indictable offenses, the charges against the defendants will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.