29 charged in stolen car ring

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STATE — Twenty-nine men were charged in the takedown of a major international carjacking and stolen car trafficking ring that stole luxury cars in New Jersey and New York and shipped them to West Africa, where they can sell for prices in excess of new market value in the United States. Twenty-three individuals were arrested today as multi-agency teams executed warrants on charges including first-degree racketeering, carjacking and money laundering. Six fugitives are being sought on warrants.

Approximately 160 stolen cars worth more than $8 million were recovered in “Operation Jacked,” a 10-month investigation led by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police, assisted by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and 12 other agencies. Approximately 140 of the cars were recovered at ports in New Jersey and New York where members of the ring delivered them for shipment.

The ring targeted high-end vehicles – particularly luxury SUVs – made by Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Honda, Porsche, Jaguar and Aston Martin. Twenty-seven of the recovered vehicles had been taken in carjackings, a majority of which involved a gun or other weapon, while the others were stolen from various locations where the thieves were able to steal them with one or more of their electronic keys or key fobs, which are critical to the resale value of the cars. Authorities charged seven as leaders of the criminal enterprise. Within the ring, individuals filled various roles, including carjacker, car thief, wheel man, fence, shipper and buyer. Carjackers and thieves, who worked in “theft crews,” would typically be paid $4,000 to $8,000 for a stolen car by street-level fences, who sold cars up the chain to higher-level fences. Shippers would load the cars into shipping containers, which were taken to ports for transport by ship to West Africa.

Acting Attorney General Hoffman announced the arrests at Totowa State Police Station with State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes, Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig, Superintendent Michael Fedorko of the Port Authority Police Department, Special Agent in Charge Andrew McLees of ICE Homeland Security Investigations and representatives of the other partnering agencies.

“Carjackers are driven to steal and even to murder by the demand that exists for luxury stolen vehicles,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This ring we took down was a double threat. Its members committed carjackings that put the public in grave danger, while at the same time, through their fencing and shipping operations, they created demand that motivated others to commit carjackings. We hit them hard from both ends, completely dismantling their operations.”

“The more we learn about the sophisticated pipeline between the supply and demand for stolen luxury cars, the better we can choke off that route and disrupt the flow,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The scope of those arrested and charged shows just how organized this dangerous criminal enterprise had become.”

“We are joining forces to fight carjacking, which has reached epidemic proportions in some areas,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “In this ongoing investigation, we used cutting-edge investigative techniques to infiltrate a transnational auto theft and trafficking enterprise. By locking up carjackers as well as ringleaders who were shipping stolen cars to a lucrative market overseas, we have made our streets and our communities safer.”

“Through our multi-agency cooperation and good investigative police work, we’ve been able to stop a major auto trafficking ring that preyed on the traveling public,” said Port Authority Chief Security Officer Joseph Dunne. “These arrests are evidence of the priority we place on the safety and security for the millions of customers we serve each year.”

“It is rare that an international criminal organization is so closely linked to violence on the streets of America. Thanks to an exceptional relationship between HSI, the New Jersey State Police and our local partners, this intricate international auto theft organization has been dismantled,” said Andrew McLees, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Newark. “This group, responsible for over 160 auto thefts, has been victimizing our community for more than a year. It is through a great federal-state partnership that these criminals were investigated and are ultimately facing justice.”

Theft crews used various methods to steal cars, including carjackings. They always had a goal of obtaining keys or key fobs. Carjackers would often target victims by bumping their vehicles from behind on the highway. When victims stopped to address the situation, the carjackers would take their key by force or threat, or simply jump into the vehicle and drive off if the key was left inside. Guns or other weapons were used in a number of carjackings. Thefts also occurred at carwashes and at airports, where drivers would leave cars running at terminals and get out to unload luggage. Cars were stolen from manufacturers as they sat on carrier-trailers in lots, and other times keys and cars were stolen from car dealerships. Thieves would hold up valets to get keys and vehicles, or grab keys from valet boxes. Thieves also would search wealthy neighborhoods and find high-end cars unlocked with the key fob in the glove box. In other cases, individuals in the ring would obtain cars through fraud, using bad checks to purchase cars from new and used car dealerships.

After vehicles were stolen, the theft crew typically would store or “cool off” the cars at various locations, including hospital parking garages, long-term parking garages, residential backyards, warehouses and private storage garages, to make sure they were not equipped with tracking devices that would lead law enforcement to them. Other times, members of the ring removed tracking devices from the cars. After a vehicle was sufficiently “cooled,” it was moved to a “fence.”

The stolen cars typically moved through at least two levels of fences before reaching their ultimate destinations. Fences often used “wheel men” to move the stolen cars to different locations while negotiating purchase prices with other fences and potential buyers. The wheel men would move cars to and from storage locations, to shipping locations, and to buyers. While some cars were sold domestically, including in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts, most of them were shipped overseas. Shippers arranged for the stolen cars to be loaded into shipping containers and transported to ports. They completed false bills of lading, misrepresenting the contents of the containers. Of the roughly 160 vehicles recovered, 140 were recovered at ports, including Port Newark, Port Elizabeth and Howland Hook Seaport in Staten Island, N.Y. Investigators believe that additional vehicles were being moved by this criminal enterprise, beyond those recovered in the investigation. The ring operated in multiple counties in New Jersey, including Essex, Union, Morris, Monmouth, Middlesex, and Bergen Counties.

The following agencies assisted in Operation Jacked, under the leadership of the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice:

  1. Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Department
  2. ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark (Border Enforcement Security Task Force)
  3. Union County Prosecutor’s Office
  4. Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
  5. Massachusetts State Police
  6. Delaware State Police
  7. Connecticut State Police
  8. Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office
  9. Manalapan Police Department
  10. Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office
  11. U.S. Customs & Border Protection
  12. Bayonne Police Department
  13. Hudson County Sheriff’s Office
  14. U.S. Marshals Service

Valuable assistance also was provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The investigation was conducted for the New Jersey State Police by members of the Auto Unit and other members of the Special Investigations Section, including Detective Sgt. Aaron Auclair, Detective Sgt. Jeovanny Rodriguez, Detective Sgt. 1st Class Enrique Bryan, Detective Cory Rodriguez and Trooper Nicholas Rubino. The lead prosecutors who conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau are Deputy Attorney General Anthony Torntore and Deputy Attorney General Debra Conrad, Senior Counsel in the Specialized Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Jill Mayer, Deputy Division Director Christopher Romanyshyn and Division Director Elie Honig. Deputy Attorney General Susan Wolansky is handling the forfeiture action in this case.

The investigation revealed that a number of individuals exercised leadership roles in the criminal enterprise, and certain defendants associated more closely with particular leaders or individuals within the larger enterprise. Seven men were charged as leaders of the enterprise. They were charged with the second-degree crime of leader of an auto theft trafficking network, as well as first-degree racketeering, first-degree money laundering and second-degree fencing. The following seven alleged leaders have been arrested. They also allegedly assumed other roles ranging from car thief to high-level fence.

  1. Leon Nii-Moi, 35, of Roselle;
  2. Kyle Champagnie, 27, of Irvington;
  3. Saladine Grant, 39, of Irvington;
  4. James Hemphill, 41, of Belleville;
  5. Omar Smith, 39, of Newark;
  6. Demarco Sparks, 40, of Newark; and
  7. Deandre Stevenson, 41, of Newark.

Three men were charged with first-degree carjacking. They also were charged with first-degree racketeering, second-degree fencing and second-degree receiving stolen property. The following two were arrested, and the third is being sought as a fugitive. His name is being withheld.

  1. Yves Augustin, 24, of Rahway;
  2. Kurtis Bossie, 22, of Newark.

The following three men were charged as shippers. They were charged with first-degree racketeering, second-degree fencing, and either first-degree money laundering or second-degree receiving stolen property. Oduro and Nasidi were arrested. Marfo remains a fugitive.

  1. Standford Oduro, 61, of Bloomfield
  2. Kojo Marfo, 47, of Newark; and
  3. Ahmad Nasidi, 33, of Newark.

The remaining defendants were variously charged with racketeering (1st degree), conspiracy (2nd degree), money laundering (1st degree), receiving stolen property (2nd & 3rd degree), and fencing (2nd & 3rd degree).

The following four men were charged who allegedly acted as high-level fences.

  1. Terrell Savage, 44, of Newark;
  2. Ibn Traynham, 37, of Newark;
  3. Daniel Hunt, 36, of East Orange; and
  4. Steve McGraw, 34, of Newark.

Four men were charged who allegedly acted as street-level fences. The following two alleged street-level fences were arrested. The other two are being sought as fugitives and their names are being withheld.

  1. Abdur Abdullah, 32, Tuckerton; and
  2. Kyle Botts, 33, of Newark.

Eight other men were charged who allegedly acted as carjackers, car thieves and/or wheel men. Of those eight men, the following six defendants were arrested. The other two are being sought as fugitives and their names are being withheld.

  1. Malik Baker, 20, of Vauxhall;
  2. Nathaniel Barnes, 31, of Irvington;
  3. Kevin Burton, 34, of Newark;
  4. Abdul Dailey III, 33, of Montclair;
  5. Johnnie Davila, 26, of Newark; and
  6. Terrell Waller, 25, of Newark.

First-degree racketeering and first-degree money laundering carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, with a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed, and a fine of up to $200,000. First-degree money laundering carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, including a period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed, with the sentence to run consecutively to sentences for any other charges, and a fine of up to $500,000. Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.

The individuals who were arrested were processed and lodged in jail with bails ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. The charges were filed by complaint. They are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because they are indictable offenses, the charges against the defendants will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.


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