New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly with an AK-47-type-assault...

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly with an AK-47-type-assault rifle after he and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., left, held a news conference to announce the indictment of 33 defendants after an investigation into a criminal enterprise that stole and sold motorcycles and trafficked illegal firearms. (July 26, 2012) Credit: Charles Eckert

A band of thieves who stole motorcycles off city streets and trafficked in the illegal sale of guns and stolen cars has been broken up with the indictment of 33 people, officials said Thursday.

"This crime ring made motorcycles disappear and illegal guns appear on the streets of New York," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at a news conference. "The magic act was brought to an end today" because of this investigation.

Kelly said that, over the 17-month inquiry, some of the suspects knew they were targets and engaged in counter-surveillance, taking pictures of vehicles they thought were being used by undercover officers.

The thieves stole at least 63 high-end motorcycles worth about $500,000, mostly off the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, Kelly said. He said it took the thieves no more than 30 seconds in most instances to steal a motorcycle and load it into a stolen minivan with the interior stripped out.

They resold the bikes locally, or dismantled them and shipped them under the guise of household goods to the Caribbean and Africa, Kelly said as Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance stood at his side.

The thieves also purchased luxury cars for a fraction of their value with the understanding that the autos would be shipped overseas and the owners would collect insurance after reporting the cars stolen, Kelly said.

Most of the defendants live in Brooklyn. Others live in Queens, one lives in Elmont, one in Trinidad and one in Santa Lucia.

The investigation began after the theft of a Yamaha motorcycle in TriBeCa, Kelly said. But officials said they later learned that the operation had been running for five years before that.

During the course of the investigation, some of the suspects began buying guns in Virginia and other southern states and reselling them on city streets at immense profits. Officials said an assault rifle purchased for $300 was resold for $1,700.

Some of the guns were displayed at the news conference, along with brightly colored motorcycles. The thieves specialized in high-end bikes, such as Ducati and BMW models, officials said.

Not all of the defendants were charged with the same crimes, but 28 of the 33 were charged with enterprise corruption, Vance said.

With William Murphy

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