Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a state grand jury today charged 26 defendants with first-degree racketeering in an indictment stemming from “Operation Jacked,” a multi-agency investigation that dismantled a major international carjacking and stolen car trafficking ring that stole high-end cars in New Jersey and New York and shipped them to West Africa.
The indictment charges three alleged ringleaders, two alleged shippers for the ring, and 21 associates who fenced cars, committed carjackings and thefts, and acted as wheel men who moved and hid the luxury vehicles. Four defendants, including a shipper and two fences, previously pleaded guilty. Most of the defendants were arrested in February. Operation Jacked was 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 law enforcement agencies. Investigators recovered approximately 160 stolen cars worth more than $8 million, primarily at ports in New Jersey and New York.
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. In West Africa, the luxury vehicles trafficked by the ring can command prices in excess of new market value in the U.S. The indictment charges all 26 defendants with first-degree racketeering and second-degree conspiracy. In addition, three are charged with first-degree carjacking and 18 are charged with first-degree money laundering.
“Through Operation Jacked, we put dangerous carjackers behind bars and shut down the main pipeline by which criminals in New Jersey were selling stolen vehicles into a very lucrative overseas market,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “The murder at The Mall at Short Hills a year ago is a tragic example of how far carjackers will go in pursuing their profits. Working with our law enforcement partners, we have significantly reduced carjackings and made the streets of our communities safer.”
“Through this operation and the work of the Essex County Carjacking Task Force, law enforcement has made major progress in stemming the tide of carjackings in the Newark area,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Working with our partners at all levels of law enforcement, we conducted a far-reaching investigation that infiltrated this criminal syndicate and enabled us to bring first-degree racketeering charges against 26 members. They will face lengthy prison sentences.”
“Operation Jacked was a complex, well-executed investigation, which demonstrates the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies partnering and sharing information,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Today’s indictments are a step forward in permanently dismantling this international carjacking syndicate.”
“These indictments illustrate the important work conducted by the HSI Border Enforcement Security Task Force in partnership with the New Jersey State Police and local law enforcement to identify, investigate and dismantle a violent transnational criminal organization that showed absolutely no regard for the safety of law-abiding New Jersey residents and was willing to harm anyone it deemed necessary to maximize its ill-gotten profits,” said acting Newark Special Agent in Charge John P. Woods. “This case is an excellent example of how cross-border crime directly impacts U.S. residents and shows precisely why HSI will continue to make dismantling these transnational criminal organizations one of its highest priorities.”
According to the AG’s Office, individuals filled various roles in the ring, 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.
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 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, Bergen and Somerset Counties.
The lead prosecutors who presented the case to the state grand jury and 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 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 Sgt. 1st Class Ron Micucci, Detective Cory Rodriguez and Trooper Nicholas Rubino.
The indictment charges the following three men who allegedly exercised leadership roles in the criminal enterprise. Certain defendants associated more closely with particular leaders or individuals within the larger enterprise. In addition to the other charges, these three men are charged with the second-degree crime of leader of an auto theft trafficking network:
- Leon Nii-Moi, 36, of Roselle;
- Kyle Champagnie, 27, of Irvington;
- Omar Smith, 40, of Newark;
The following three men, who allegedly were car thieves for the criminal enterprise, are charged in the indictment with first-degree carjacking, which carries a sentence of 10 to 30 years in state prison, 85 percent of which must be served without possibility of parole under the No Early Release Act:
- Yves Augustin, 25, of Rahway;
- Kurtis Bossie, 22, of Newark; and
- Jim J. Bryant Jr., 23, of Newark.
Bossie and Bryant are charged with a carjacking on Jan. 29, 2014, in which they allegedly struck the victim’s Mercedes SUV from behind on I-78 in Newark. When the victim stopped to check his car for damage, Bossie allegedly jumped into the Mercedes and drove away. Augustin is charged with a carjacking on July 3, 2013, in which the victim was rammed from behind on McCarter Highway in Newark. His Mercedes SUV was taken after he pulled into a gas station to check for damage. The victim’s key fob allegedly was taken at gunpoint. Augustin also is charged with a carjacking on July 9, 2013, in which a woman’s Mercedes SUV was bumped in Newark, and she had her key fob forcibly taken from her hands when she stopped to check her vehicle. Police interrupted that carjacking, and Augustin allegedly fled in another car. Augustin faces two counts each of first-degree carjacking and first-degree robbery, as well as charges of burglary, aggravated assault and eluding police.
The indictment charges the following two men who allegedly acted as shippers for the ring:
- Kojo A. Marfo, 48, of Newark; and
- Ahmad A. Nasidi, 34, of Newark.
The indictment charges the following 12 men who allegedly acted as fences for the ring: (Many of them also allegedly stole vehicles for the ring.)
- Saladine Grant, 40, of East Orange;
- James Hemphill, 42, of Belleville;
- Demarco Sparks, 41, of Newark; and
- Terrell Savage, 44, of Newark;
- Ibn Traynham, 37, of Newark;
- Daniel I. Hunt, 37, of East Orange;
- Steve McGraw, 35, of Newark.
- Abdur Abdullah, 33, Tuckerton;
- Woody Armand, 39, of Montclair;
- Kyle Botts, 34, of Newark;
- Abdul Dailey III, 33, of Newark; and
- Fate Lucas, 25, of Maplewood.
The indictment charges the following six additional men who allegedly acted as car thieves and/or wheel men:
- Robert Alexander, 38, of Newark;
- Malik Baker, 21, of Vauxhall;
- Nathaniel Barnes III, 32, of Irvington;
- Kevin Burton, 34, of Newark;
- Craig Boone, 39, of Newark; and
- Johnnie Davila, 27, of Cherry Hill.
The following four defendants previously pleaded guilty in the case:
- Standford Oduro, 61, of Bloomfield, a shipper for the ring, pleaded guilty on June 19, 2014 to second-degree racketeering and faces a sentence of seven years in prison.
- Vinolia Kuleke, 21, of Elizabeth, a fence for the ring, pleaded guilty on July 1, 2014 to second-degree racketeering and faces a sentence of seven years in prison.
- Kevin Collins, 40, of Neptune, a wheel man for the ring, pleaded guilty on August 4, 2014 to second-degree racketeering and faces a sentence of five years in prison.
- Deandre Stevenson, 42, of Newark, a fence and car thief for the ring, pleaded guilty on Sept. 16, 2014 to first-degree money laundering and second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon. He faces a sentence of 12 years in prison, including five years of parole ineligibility.
All four of those defendants currently are awaiting sentencing.
First-degree carjacking carries a sentence of 10 to 30 years in state 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 racketeering carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state 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 state 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 state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Gerald J. Council in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Union County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment.
A copy of the indictment is posted with this press release at www.njpublicsafety.com.
The following agencies assisted in Operation Jacked, under the leadership of the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice:
- Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Department
- ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark (Border Enforcement Security Task Force)
- Union County Prosecutor’s Office
- Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
- Massachusetts State Police
- Delaware State Police
- Connecticut State Police
- Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office
- Manalapan Police Department
- Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office
- U.S. Customs & Border Protection
- Bayonne Police Department
- Hudson County Sheriff’s Office
- U.S. Marshals Service