These 22 people stole $4 million worth of luxury cars, cops say (PHOTOS)
Authorities Wednesday afternoon announced charges against 22 men they say were responsible for stealing at least 90 luxury cars valued at more than $4 million from northern New Jersey and New York.
According to Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, those 90 cars were recovered in a 16-month investigation involving several agencies — and the 22 people involved scouted out "golf courses, pricey restaurants, malls and suburban driveways" for cars to snatch and sell in West Africa for premium prices.
An initial announcement from the Attorney General's office only identified 21 people, though the office later said a 22nd, Alterquie Jones of Maplewood, had also been charged. No photo of Jones was provided.
Nineteen of the men were arrested Tuesday on charges including first-degree racketeering, carjacking and money laundering as a multi-agency team fanned out to execute arrest warrants, the AG's office said. Another 3 are still being sought as fugitives.
"While fortunately we have not had anyone shot or murdered during a carjacking in this case, we’ve seen in other cases how quickly things can turn deadly when carjackers carry out the type of armed ambush this ring committed," Hoffman said. We’ve completely dismantled this dangerous network and charged its members with first-degree crimes"
According to Hoffman, the group stole the cars from suburbs along the Route 17 corridor in New Jersey, among other areas that included Rockland County, N.Y., and multiple counties in New Jersey, including Morris, Bergen, Essex, Union, Hudson, Monmouth, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Somerset.
The investigation dismantling the operation was lead 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 numerous other agencies, the AG's office said.
“The last time we took down a major carjacking ring, the focus of the operation was Essex County, and the result of that operation and the ongoing work of the State Police and the Essex County Carjacking Task Force was dramatic: carjackings cut by nearly two-thirds,” Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice said in a statement provided by the AG's office. “Now we’ve targeted carjackers who have infiltrated the suburbs in search of the high-end vehicles they prize. We’re confident that, once again, this operation will result in safer communities.”
The statement also quoted Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police saying he was "confident that the success of this multi-agency effort will have a positive and lasting effect in our communities.
Port Authority Chief Security Officer Thomas Belfiore said since some o the illicit activity occured at his agency's facilities "we will remain extra vigilant in combating the shipment of stolen or carjacked vehicles to overseas destinations."
"These individuals were part of an elaborate ring of international car thieves," Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly of HSI Newark said. "By working together on the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, we are able to multiply our resources and build on our commitment to the protection of American people on a local and national level.”
The AG's office provided exaples of the alleged carjackings:
At about 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2014, a man was sitting in his black Mercedes S550 in the parking lot at The Mills at Jersey Gardens shopping mall in Elizabeth when a black car pulled up behind his vehicle. A man with his face masked from his nose to his chin approached the victim’s car pointing a black handgun at him. The carjacker ordered the victim to get out of the car and leave behind all of his belongings. The victim complied, leaving his car keys, iPhone, iPad, wallet and numerous credit cards. The carjacker got into the victim’s car and sped off.
Two weeks later, on Sept. 25, 2014, a similar carjacking occurred at The Outlet Collection Mall in Elizabeth. A man was in his black Mercedes S550 when he was approached by an armed gunman who told him to get out of the car and keep on walking or he would be shot.
On the afternoon of Aug. 24, 2015, a man was walking toward his 2014 BMW 650i in front of his home in Montclair when he saw a man get out of a silver Mercedes and attempt to pull the front of his T-shirt over his nose to mask his face. The carjacker, who did not succeed in keeping the shirt over his face, approached the victim and ordered him to turn over his car keys. As the carjacker gave that command, he reached behind his back, leading the victim to believe he was reaching for a gun in his waistband. The victim surrendered his keys and ran away. The carjacker drove off in the BMW and another driver left in the Mercedes, which had been stolen that day in Saddle Brook. Defendant Nasir Turner, 36, of Newark, N.J., has been charged with first-degree carjacking as the alleged carjacker in this incident.
Shortly after 8 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2015, three carjackers in a black BMW drove into the parking lot of a popular Italian restaurant on Route 10 in Hanover. One of the men pointed a gun at a valet outside of the restaurant and demanded the keys to a 2015 Mercedes S550 and a 2015 Bentley Continental GT, which were parked in front of the restaurant. The Bentley is worth approximately $204,000. The valet turned over the keys and the three carjackers fled in the vehicles. Defendant Derrick Moore, 36, of Keansburg, N.J., has been charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit carjacking in connection with that incident.
Sophisticated cars, sophisticated operation
According to the AG's office, the ring went after specific, high-end vehicles: models of Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Maserati, Porsche, Jaguar and Bentley.
Some cars were taken through carjackings, while others were stolen from 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, the AG's office said.
Those involved had a variety of duties, according to the AG's office: carjacker, car thief, wheel man, fence, shipper and buyer. Shippers would load the cars into shipping containers, which were taken to ports for transport by ship to West Africa, it said.
Some cars were taken from gas stations, convenience stores, carwashes and airports when the drivers got out and left vehicles running, the AG's office said. Other cars were stolen from car dealerships, it said.
Sometimes the thieves would use phony credit cards or fake IDs to rent cars and never return them, the AG's office said. Many were "retagged" with new VINs, and the thieves would then obtain titles in other states, the AG's office said.
The cars would be left to "cool off" in a variety of locations, according to the AG's office: short-term airport parking garages, residential parking complexes, residential back yards, commercial warehouses and shipping containers. That helped the thieves ensure they were not equipped with tracking devices that would lead law enforcement to them, the AG's office said.
They'd then be sold through fences — moving up a chain of fencers within the organization, the AG's office said.
Domestically, stolen vehicles were recovered in Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Georgia, Texas, and New Jersey.
Internationally, the vehicles were most frequently exported to West Africa, including the countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, and Gambia, the AG's office said.
Shippers sending the vehicles from New Jersey or New York would complete a bill of lading for shipping containers that typically misrepresented the actual contents, the AG's office said.
Of the 90 vehicles recovered, 23 were recovered at ports used by the ring: Port Newark, Port Elizabeth, Global Terminal in Bayonne, and the Howland Hook Seaport in Staten Island, N.Y., the AG's office said.
It also said investigators believe more cars were moved by the operation.
22 people charged/strong>
All 22 are charged with first-degree racketeering, first-degree money laundering, and second- or third-degree receiving stolen property and fencing.
The following are the alleged primary roles of those charged
Tyja Evans, 39, of Watchung,
Ibn Jones, 37, of Newark
Eddie Craig, 36, of Beverly
Shippers and High-Level Fences
Peter Cleland, 32, of East Orange
Sowah Anan, 31, of Elizabeth
Manuel Oliveres, 44, of Jersey City
Adama Fofana, 53, of the Bronx, N.Y.
Alpha Jalloh, 26, of New York, N.Y.
Higher-Level Fence and Retagger of Vehicles
Panel Dalce, 43, of South Orange
Frazier Gibson, 29, of East Orange
Eric Aikens, 40, of Newark
Lavell Burnett, 38, of Newark
Damion Mikell, 32, of Newark
Carjackers, Car Thieves and/or Wheel Men
Nasir Turner, 36, of Newark
Derrick Moore, 36, of Keansburg
Kenneth Daniels, 29, of Newark (fugitive)
Tyree Johnson, 22, of Newark
Donnel Carroll, 28, of Newark (fugitive)
Khalil Culbreath, 38, of Newark (fugitive)
Terrence Wilson, 39, of Newark
Marquis Price, 32, of Newark
Alterquie Jones, 40, of Maplewood
The various charges could land the individuals in jail for dozens of years, with fines reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The individuals who were arrested were processed and lodged in jail with bails ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. The defendants are scheduled to be in court on Friday, Oct. 30, at 1:30 p.m. for a first appearance on the charges before Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Taylor in Morristown.