Authorities said Wednesday they've put the brakes on an international vehicle-theft ring in which a sophisticated team of thieves allegedly took orders for cars and sport utility vehicles before scouring the New York tri-state region to steal them for customers here and abroad.
"It was a sophisticated operation," state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said during a press conference in Manhattan. "It was steal-to-order. They would get an order for a particular type of vehicle and that would be the vehicle that they would steal, down to the accessory package."
During the year-long investigation by the New York City police, the attorney general's office and state police, authorities counted more than 450 stolen vehicles, mostly Toyotas, but also BMWs and Mercedes. They believe the Bronx-based operation had been going on for a significant time.
Authorities said the vehicles were stolen from streets, dealerships and parking garages in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. If the vehicle was to stay in United States, the cars were then given fake documents and sold in New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Texas.
Vehicles shipped overseas went to Senegal, stuffed up to three at a time into shipping containers, surrounded by furniture, falsely labeled to avoid detection and put on boats usually from the Port of Newark, authorities said.
During the investigation, authorities recovered 99 vehicles, 67 of which were stolen in the five boroughs, said Anthony Izzo, chief of the NYPD's Organized Crime Control Bureau.
"Those cars that wound up in Africa, demanded a very handsome profit," he said. "Some of those vehicles were sold for prices in excess of $2,500. In those cases, often times, the crew didn't even bother to alter the VIN numbers on those vehicles" because they thought nobody would be looking in those countries.
Authorities were led to the alleged ring by a tip from a confidential informant, Cuomo said. The hierarchy of the organization included exporters, car thieves, brokers, a garage attendant and two Toyota dealership employees who would help by taking vehicle identification numbers and creating duplicate keys.
Thieves would use the duplicate keys and laptop computers to activate the unique code given to each key, allowing the vehicle to be stolen with little or no damage, authorities said.
The investigation resulted in indictments against 17 people in New York and New Jersey, Cuomo said. Raids Wednesday led to 16 of 17 indicted suspects being arrested, authorities said. All 17 suspects are charged with felonies in the 48-count indictment, authorities said.