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01 March 2014

State Police dismantle international crime ring that shipped cars from NJ to West Africa

 
The cars were taken by various methods, disappearing from New Jersey’s streets as soon as they were stolen.
For months, criminals were taking high-end vehicles from residents of northern and central New Jersey by luring them into roadside traps or stealing them at gunpoint.

But these men had a plan beyond a simple carjacking, a scheme that acting Attorney General John Hoffman Thursday called a “natural” evolution for carjackers.
For the past year, vehicles including Jaguars, Land Rovers and Porsches were being taken from New Jersey and shipped to West Africa for six-figure profits, authorities said.
The international carjacking ring came crashing down Thursday, when a phalanx of law enforcement agencies led by State Police arrested 26 people and seized more than 160 cars valued at more than $8 million, completing a 10-month investigation dubbed “Operation Jacked,” Hoffman said.

“We will not allow this threat to go unanswered, undealt with, and we will not allow it to go without a fight,” he said. “Our best fight.”
Seven men were charged with masterminding the ring, which Hoffman said was responsible for the theft of hundreds of vehicles. Many of the cars slipped out of the country through Port Newark, Port Elizabeth or the Howland Hook Marine Terminal in Staten Island, authorities said.
All of the recovered vehicles are in the process of being returned to their owners by way of their insurance companies, Hoffman said.

While the investigation began months prior to the December carjacking and killing of Dustin Friedland outside the Short Hills mall, Hoffman invoked the Hoboken attorney’s death several times Thursday.
“The murder several months ago of Mr. Friedland in Short Hills mall shows how far carjackers will go to achieve their goal,” he said.
The theft ring included suspects who stole the cars, others who arranged their transit overseas and “fences” who negotiated sales, Hoffman said.
Twenty-seven of the recovered vehicles were taken in carjackings, including one incident in Newark that left a woman bloodied after she was repeatedly pistol-whipped.

In other cases, Hoffman said, carjackers would pull up behind a vehicle and stage a minor motor vehicle accident. Once the driver exited, the carjackers would pounce.
Police noticed a pattern of those carjackings on state highways last year, which sparked the investigation, said Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the State Police.
Other times, Hoffman said, thieves would stalk wealthy neighborhoods and then steal the vehicles while the driver was preoccupied at an airport or car wash, or attack valets to steal keys to luxury vehicles.

The method of stalking wealthy haunts was similar to the alleged actions of the four men charged in Friedland’s death, but there was no connection alleged between that case and “Operation Jacked.”
Once stolen, the cars were hidden in underground garages or parking lots to “cool off,” Hoffman said. After a number of weeks, the thieves would hire another driver to bring the stolen vehicle to a “fence,” who would sell it to one of the organization’s ringleaders.
The bosses conspired with “shippers” who would doctor paperwork and have the vehicles loaded into shipping containers, hoping they would slip past checks at local ports, Hoffman said.

“Most of the containers are filled up and most of the paperwork is done off-site,” he said. “So this does not actually happen in the port in sight of everybody.”
Each carjacker was paid up to $8,000 per vehicle, according to Hoffman, who said the ringleaders raked in six-figure sums once the vehicles were shipped to West Africa.
Carjackings have surged in the state in recent years because improved security systems have made it near impossible for thieves to swipe parked cars.

Police said the appearance of car trafficking rings like the one dismantled Thursday could signal another shift.
“When you’re talking about $100,000 in profits that’s available, that’s going to drive a more sophisticated criminal network. You see it with cars, you see it with drugs,” Hoffman said. “It’s a fairly natural evolution, unfortunately.”

 

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