NEWARK, New Jersey - Federal, state and local law enforcement officials in Newark, New Jersey have announced the breakup of a major car theft and export ring. 19 people have been charged with stealing cars in the New York and New Jersey area, and exporting them through the area's seaports for sale in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa.
Assistant United States Attorney Gilmore Childers was flanked by law enforcement officers from nearly 20 federal, state and local agencies as he announced the arrests of 11 of the 19 men and women from Africa and the United States who are charged with the theft of high end automobiles in New York and New Jersey.
"The cars were stolen and shipped or attempted to be shipped overseas to buyers often willing to pay thousands of dollars over their market value," said Childers. "This was a very lucrative operation which is now closed for business."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton helped to oversee the multi-agency effort to put the international car theft ring out of business, May 23, 2012. (A. Phillips/VOA).
John Morton, the director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which helped to coordinate and oversee the multi-agency investigation, said that these crimes had other negative effects in terms of safety and quality of life.
"No good comes of organized auto theft," Morton declared. "It promotes crime, carjackings and robberies that no community should have to tolerate. This case was particularly troublesome, as it involved not only widespread theft, but also repeated abuse of our export laws."
U.S. Attorney Childers added there are complex economic impacts to this sort of organized crime. For example, not only are car theft victims deprived of their property, a pattern of car theft in a given area results in higher insurance premiums for the drivers who live and work there.
"But the ripple effects don’t stop there. Frequently, the individuals who actually steal the cars off the streets of our cities and towns are gang members or associated with gangs. Our hope is that by going after the market players, that is, the individuals involved in purchasing, reselling and exporting of stolen vehicles, we will reduce the demand for stolen vehicles," noted Childers. "At the same time we hope to impact one of the sources of income for gangs."
During an exclusive VOA interview following the formal press conference, a relaxed ICE Director John Morton said the fact that this car ring has been eviscerated represents both a local victory and an international one.
"I just love these kinds of cases when we get together with our partners. We address a very serious problem from a local perspective - that is people getting their cars stolen from them and in many cases carjacked. We get everybody together, we rip the organization out by its roots, and it goes all the way to Africa," said Morton. "So it's a very good result for everybody when we can come together and in short order put an end to it."
Officials say the next step will be to round up the remaining eight suspects and to arraign them and put them on trial, a process that is expected to take at least several months.