An NYPD task force busted up an allegedly prolific car theft ring in the Bronx and Manhattan early Tuesday morning, arresting nine participants and seizing 12 stolen vehicles in the culmination of a two-year investigation.
At dawn on Sept. 21, amNewYork Metro rode along with NYPD officers as they executed the final step of a two-year plan of action. Detectives from the task force spread out over the Bronx, targeting both the individuals who run the illegal operation and the businesses that—sometimes unknowingly—store the poached cars.
Auto thefts have been up across the city so far in 2021; though the NYPD reported a five percent drop in grand larceny auto in August, such thefts are up 17% year-to-date — making operations such as the Sept. 21 raid key to the department’s efforts to combat these crimes.
While most syndicates function as a hierarchy to steal vehicles and parts for re-sale, cops said, this “steal crew” gathered the loot from their thievery for themselves.
At a pre-dawn meeting Tuesday immediately before the raid, commanding officer of the Auto Crime Unit, Deputy Inspector Robert LaPollo briefed officers from several different departments who joined together to take down the car theft ring — including the NYPD’s Warrant Section, Attorney General’s office personnel, Department of Motor Vehicles, Yonkers Police Department, Emergency Services Personnel, and Homeland Security Investigations.
The team secured four warrants through the extensive investigation, which involved the use of surveillance videos, covert cameras and License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology that allowed police to track and observe individuals bringing in stolen vehicles. In addition, police were able to obtain title nine wiretaps which helped further the investigation.
The criminals’ master key
According to police sources, this criminal group adopted a new technology that allows them to digitally clone car key fobs in order to gain access to vehicles without damaging them.
Utilizing a specific discount website, cops said, they were able to obtain a key code, which they then gave to a locksmith who would create a key fob for them. Once inside the car, they used an aftermarket auto reprogramming device (a scan tool used by locksmiths and mechanics) that diagnoses error codes and reprograms the car’s ignition.
Hacking the car’s system, they made the vehicle’s computer think all keys were lost and created a new key code that links to the car key fob — all of which takes about five minutes.
With the cars stolen, the thieves change the vehicle identification numbers and replace the license plates with fake paper copies before selling them domestically through websites such as Facebook marketplace and even export them to countries such as the Dominican Republic.
The victims of those crimes are often two-fold, police noted. In addition to the individual who had their vehicle stolen, the individual who purchased an unknowingly hot car would potentially lose the ride they bought upon police seizure, and all of the money they spent to get it.
Beginning at 6 a.m. Tuesday, detectives swiftly apprehended nine individuals at their homes, successfully cuffing the subjects without incident.
While suspects were transported to the 44th Precinct, fellow police officials swept into several car workshops and lots for the missing vehicles.
According to sources close to the investigation, tips from the community were instrumental in bringing the NYPD to these locations.
This morning, #NYPD detectives took down a motor vehicle crime ring in the Bronx. Read the full story exclusively on @amNewYork https://t.co/9HFk1Cx9uM #news #crime @NYPDnews #GrandTheftAuto pic.twitter.com/kid5A0u2aV
— Dean_Moses (@Dean_Moses) September 21, 2021
Officers carefully searched the businesses in the Mount Hope and Tremont area, using flashlights and other means to identify their authenticity, until they came across several stolen Hondas and Acuras. These vehicles, many of which were taken from areas in the Bronx, Westchester, and Manhattan, were recovered by the team and join some 100 other cars police have already secured.
“We recovered about 12 cars this morning and we had approximately over 100 that we recovered previously,” LaPollo told amNewYork Metro. ‘We were able to safely apprehend nine out of our ten subjects, which will be going to court to face their alleged crimes. As a result, we found numerous evidence at one of our search warrant locations that show that these vehicles were being retagged and sold to customers within the United States as well as overseas.”
Police sources said the takedown had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they were confident it would make a difference in increasing safety throughout the city.
“This will definitely benefit the community. This crew was prolific throughout the city,” LaPollo said. “They stole at least 300 vehicles. That’s 300 victims that woke up one morning and found their cars weren’t there. That’s people who couldn’t get to work. That’s people who couldn’t drive their kids to school. This crew has now been shut down and we won’t see this kind of theft rate for a while in New York City.”
According to police sources, some of the victims were able to recoup their losses from their insurance companies, while others who did not have insurance, if the vehicle was recovered it was returned to them.
Although the day was a big win for law enforcement, the investigation will continue with more arrests and vehicles expected to be recovered in the near future.