TOTOWA, N.J. – Authorities smashed an international ring that snatched luxury cars from towns along Route 17 in Bergen and Rockland counties and elsewhere before shipping them to West Africa.
"Operation 17 Corridor" included Demarest and Paramus police and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, leading to the arrests of 18 men and the recovery of more than 90 stolen cars worth well over $4 million.
Three fugitives were sought, acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman said during a Wednesday news conference at the State Police Totowa barracks.
Besides Bergen and Rockland, the ring operated in Hudson, Morris, Union, Essex and other counties, he said.
Members “scouted golf courses, pricey restaurants, malls and suburban driveways to find the specific luxury cars they coveted, working in teams to commit armed carjackings and other thefts,” Hoffman said.
One pulled up in a Mercedes stolen from Saddle Brook to a man in front of his home in Montclair, demanded his keys and reached behind his back as if he had a gun, then drove off in the victim's 2014 BMW 650i while an accomplice took the Mercedes, Hoffman said.
On Oct. 6, one of three carjackers who pulled up in a black BMW pointed a gun at a valet at a popular Hanover restaurant on Route 10 and demanded the keys to a 2015 Mercedes S550 and to a 2015 Bentley Continental GT worth $204,000. They then fled with the vehicles.
Others were stolen from wealthy neighborhoods where drivers left key fobs inside or from gas stations, convenience stores or car washes after vehicles were left running, Hoffman said.
Some were retagged with new VINs and taken to another state for new titles and temporary tags.
Crew members "cooled off" the hot cars at airport parking garages, residential parking complexes and elsewhere before fences moved them using "wheel men," the attorney general said.
Some were sold domestically but most were exported to Ghana, Nigeria and other West African countries at a considerable markup.
The 16-month investigation was led by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the NJSP, assisted by Port Authority police, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and various local agencies, Hoffman said.
"We are confident Operation 17 Corridor will reduce carjackings and make residents safer in the suburban communities where this ring operated," Hoffman said.
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