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October 28, 2015Totowa, NJ, United StatesTransnational Gangs, Operational

21 charged in $4 million takedown of international car theft ring

TOTOWA, N.J. — Twenty-one people were charged by the New Jersey Attorney General Tuesday 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 and other places 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 18 of those individuals Thursday on racketeering, carjacking and money laundering charges. Three fugitives remain at large.

About 90 stolen cars worth more than $4 million were recovered during "Operation 17 Corridor," a 16-month 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, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and 11 other agencies.

“This operation clearly demonstrates the combined strength of law enforcement in attacking a plague of property crime that has run a toll in the millions of dollars on our community,” said Kevin Kelly, acting special agent in charge of HSI Newark. “These individuals were part of an elaborate ring of international car thieves. By working together on the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, we are able to multiply our resources and build on our commitment to the protection of American people on a local and national level.”

According to court documents, the types of vehicles frequently sought included models of Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Maserati, Porsche, Jaguar and Bentley.  Some cars were taken through carjackings, while others were stolen from locations where the thieves were able to get them with one or more of their electronic keys or key fobs, which are critical to the resale value of the cars. 

Three men were charged as leaders of the auto theft trafficking ring. Within the ring, individuals filled different roles, including carjacker, car thief, wheel man, fence, shipper and buyer.  Shippers would load the cars into shipping containers, which were taken to ports for transport by ship to West Africa.

“The criminals in this ring scouted golf courses, pricey restaurants, malls and suburban driveways to find the specific luxury cars they coveted, working in teams to commit armed carjackings and other thefts,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “While fortunately we have not had anyone shot or murdered during a carjacking in this case, we’ve seen in other cases how quickly things can turn deadly when carjackers carry out the type of armed ambush this ring committed. We’ve completely dismantled this dangerous network and charged its members with first-degree crimes.”

There were multiple levels of conspirators through which the stolen cars typically moved before reaching their ultimate destinations.  The conspirators arrested within this organization would generally buy stolen cars directly from a theft crew or a lower-level conspirator within the organization.  They then moved the car up to a higher-level person, or, in the case of a high-ranking conspirator, sold the car directly to a buyer.  The stolen cars were sold both domestically and internationally. 

Domestically, the stolen vehicles have been found in Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Georgia, Texas, and New Jersey.  Internationally, the vehicles were most frequently exported to West Africa, including the countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, and Gambia.  Luxury vehicles can sell in West Africa for prices in excess of new market value in the United States.

Of the 90 vehicles recovered, 23 were recovered at ports used by the ring, including Port Newark, Port Elizabeth, Global Terminal in Bayonne, and the Howland Hook Seaport in Staten Island, New York.  Investigators believe that additional vehicles were being moved by this criminal enterprise beyond those recovered in the investigation.  

Updated: 10/30/2015