Custom-order vehicle theft ring busted

Story highlights

  • Some vehicles went for up to $40,000 in cash, New York attorney general says
  • The stolen vehicles were worth more than $1 million, officials said
  • Fourteen people are arrested in raids in several states
  • The operation specialized in the theft of Toyota and Lexus SUVs and other automobiles
Authorities have busted a luxury-vehicle theft ring that took orders from clients in Africa and then stole the cars from New York.
"This criminal enterprise used the streets of New York City as one giant showroom for stealing cars," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
The operation specialized in the theft of Toyota and Lexus SUVs and other automobiles -- Toyota Venzas, Highlanders, Sequoias and Lexus RX 350s, GX 460s and GX 470s -- as well as other high-end makes, including Acuras, his office said.
A local broker in Africa would relay the order to the theft crew boss, specifying what was to be stolen by model, year, color and accessory package.
"Members of the steal crew would then 'fill the order' by locating the specified car" and stealing it, court documents said. The stolen vehicles were worth more than $1 million.
Law enforcement arrested 14 people Wednesday in raids spanning several states, culminating a yearlong investigation. They were charged with felonies under a 58-count indictment.
The sophisticated operation used "forged document specialists," a locksmith and a portable computer to sync a key to the vehicle's unique code, allowing the vehicle to be stolen without damage, authorities said.
The cars and SUVs were then loaded into shipping containers and transported to Africa with forged titles and vehicle identification numbers. Some of them went for up to $40,000 in cash, the attorney general's office said.
Those that didn't go to Africa ended up on the black market in Chicago.