Authorities have busted an alleged international car-theft ring, charging at least 29 suspects with a range of charges related to carjacking and trafficking stolen vehicles.
A statement issued by New Jersey acting Attorney General John Hoffman suggests the ten-month investigation, dubbed “Operation Jacked,” culminated in the recovery of 160 high-end vehicles worth more than $8 million.
Most of the vehicles were reportedly stolen in New Jersey and New York, before being loaded onto ships headed for West Africa where the ringleaders were allegedly able to sell the models for more than their US retail prices.
The ring is said to have targeted high-end vehicles, luxury SUVs like Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Honda, Porsche, Jaguar and Aston Martin. A majority of the 27 carjacked vehicles were taken at gunpoint. Others were stolen with one or more of their key fobs, enabling the thieves to sell the cars for top dollar.
“Carjackers are driven to steal and even to murder by the demand that exists for luxury stolen vehicles,” Hoffman said. “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.”
In some cases, thieves allegedly bumped into the back of target vehicles on the highway. When the victim stopped to exchange insurance information, the thieves would simply jump in the car and drive off or take the keys by force or threat. Others were stolen at airports, car washes, carrier trailers, valet lots and dealerships.
The ring was allegedly structured with a variety of jobs, including carjacker, car thief, wheel man, fence, shipper and buyer. The “theft crews” were reportedly paid between $4,000 and $8,000 for each stolen car, which was typically sold for a higher price to a higher-level fence.
Police appear to have used informants to infiltrate the ring, with cooperation between federal agencies and police departments in New York and New Jersey.
“The scope of those arrested and charged shows just how organized this dangerous criminal enterprise had become,” said New Jersey State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes.