New York - Major U.S. to Senegal car theft ring busted
New York - The brakes have been slammed on an international "steal-to-order" car theft ring that targeted Toyota SUVs, Mercedes-Benz, BMWs, Infinities and Range Rovers.
Thieves snatched vehicles from streets, dealerships and parking garages in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut - then resold them in U.S. and Senegal, authorities announced Wednesday.
"This is a big case for us - a yearlong investigation," Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said.
"They had a sophisticated operation, but we had a sophisticated collaboration with the police force."
The NYPD, State Police and Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force nabbed 17 exporters, "steal men," brokers, a garage attendant and two Toyota dealership employees.
The ring is accused of stealing more than 450 vehicles in the past year, following a basic routine:
Orders were placed with the "steal crew" specifying make, model, year, color and even accessory package.
The steal crew searched for a vehicle that matched the description.
When they found it, they staked out the car for a few days, then drove off with it, using a key swiped from Toyota dealerships or a laptop to reprogram the car's internal computer.
The hot wheels were then stashed for a few days at one of four parking garages in the Bronx, while the thieves made sure they didn't have LoJack or other tracking devices.
The cars were given new VIN numbers and ID tags and shipped via the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal to buyers in Senegal or the U.S.
It's unclear who bough the cars still unclear who the cars were being sold to, but investigators suspect they were wealthy professionals - who apparently preferred silver bodies and leather interiors.
"This was not a loose collection of individuals," Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff said.
"They worked together and had their specific roles. You had your importers who only imported, your exporters who only exported. It was an extensive network."