South Amboy Man Sentenced To 15 Years For Running Auto Theft Ring

Jose D. Lopez (Photo courtesy of NJ Attorney General's Office)

Jose D. Lopez (Photo courtesy of NJ Attorney General’s Office)

TRENTON – A South Amboy man has been sentenced to 15 years in state prison for promoting organized street crime by supervising a ring that stole over 100 vehicles worth a total of more than $550,000, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced.

Jose D. Lopez, 33, aka “Cholo,” of South Amboy, was sentenced Monday, Sept. 16, to 15 years in state prison with five years of parole ineligibility by Superior Court Judge Dennis V. Nieves in Middlesex County. The sentence was based on Lopez’s July 12 guilty plea to first-degree promotion of organized street crime. The charge was contained in a criminal accusation filed by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor.

Nieves also sentenced Lopez to 10 years in state prison pursuant to his guilty plea to charges of second-degree leader of auto theft trafficking network, second-degree operation of a facility for the sale of stolen automobiles, and third-degree conspiracy. Those charges were contained in a Middlesex County grand jury indictment filed by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office in February 2012. The two sentences will run concurrently.

In pleading guilty to the charge brought by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, Lopez admitted that between June 2012 and June 2013, he promoted organized street crime by conspiring to steal 104 vehicles in Middlesex County, including multiple Honda passenger vehicles, Ford contractor vans, one trailer, one Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle, and other vehicles. A joint investigation by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, the Woodbridge Police Department and the Perth Amboy Police Department determined that Lopez arranged for the Honda vehicles to be stripped of their parts so the parts could be sold, and he arranged for the contents of the vans — primarily industrial contractors’ tools — to be sold.

“By organizing this stolen vehicle ring, this defendant deprived many hard-working contractors, plumbers, electricians and painters of their essential resources,” said Hoffman. “The lengthy prison sentence imposed today is reflective of the serious nature of the crime.”

“These types of rings affect not only the owners of the stolen vehicles, but also all New Jerseyans who pay car insurance, by increasing the premiums all of us pay for car insurance.” Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Ronald Chillemi said. “Such criminal activity will not be tolerated in New Jersey.”

The investigation into Lopez’ activities further revealed that Lopez arranged for many of the stolen vehicles to be scrapped at nearby scrapyards and that, since many of the scrapyards would not accept vehicles without an accompanying vehicle title, Lopez had nearly 100 vehicle titles forged by copying legitimate titles and altering the vehicle identification numbers using a digital scanner and a typewriter, so as to match the corresponding numbers on the scrapped vehicles.

Lopez was arrested on June 14, when investigators obtained written consent to search his apartment. The search resulted in the state seizing the typewriter used to assist in the forging of New Jersey vehicle titles, a digital scanner with a “blank” New Jersey vehicle title sitting on the “bed” of the scanner, dozens of New Jersey vehicle titles in various states of alteration/completion, receipts for scrapping stolen vehicles, numerous vehicle ignition systems, vehicle identification number (VIN) plates, stolen contractors’ tools from stolen vehicles (including tools that can be used to remove VIN plates), multiple cell phones, multiple personal vehicle GPS units, multiple laptop computers, and other miscellaneous items indicative of an organized street crime operation.

In pleading guilty to the Middlesex County charges, Lopez admitted that between 2010 and 2011, he organized an auto theft network to steal Honda passenger vehicles, install fraudulent VIN plates and license plates on the vehicles, and then sell the “re-tagged” stolen automobiles to unsuspecting buyers.

Deputy Attorney General T.J. Harker, Sgt. Jarek Pyrzanowski and Detective Doug Mattei coordinated the investigation for the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. Detectives Wendy Berg and Jon Berman and Analysts Kelly Celenza and Dalisha Carmichael, all from the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, also assisted in the investigation. Assistant Prosecutor Douglas Herring handled the matter for the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. Additional investigative assistance was provided by Sgt. Patrick Kendig and Detective Joseph Saiia of the Division of Criminal Justice’s Electronic Surveillance Unit as well as the New Jersey State Police Electronic Surveillance Unit.

Chillemi thanked the following individuals for their assistance in the investigation: Detective Sgt. Joseph Breyta and Detectives Ralph Pineiro, Marcos Valera, Carlos Rodriguez, Jessica Dejesus, and Davis Salazar from the Perth Amboy Police Department, as well as Detectives Santiago Tapia and Andrew Kondracki from the Woodbridge Police Department.

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