Eleven people have been charged in connection with an auto theft ring that snatched up luxury cars and trucks from some of the more affluent areas of the state and brought them back to Newark, authorities announced Tuesday.
In most cases, vehicles were stolen by , Carolyn Murray, the acting Essex County Prosecutor, said during a press conference in Newark.
“In the late evening or early morning hours, they would identify vehicles of interest to them,” Murray said.
Among the cars recovered Monday night were a Porsche, a Ferrari, two BMWs and a Mercedes-Benz, authorities said. Most of the stolen vehicles were sold for a fraction of their value, while others were chopped for parts, authorities said.
Many of the vehicles may also have been “re-tagged,” authorities said. It's unclear if any of the vehicles were linked to a in Northwest Bergen County, including .
“You go to a salvage lot, you buy a similar car, you get the title for that car, remove the VIN number and place it on the stolen vehicle,” Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Robert Imhof said.
Several of the cars recovered during the investigation were returned to their owners.
Investigators spent hundreds of hours performing surveillance, and arrests took place Monday night at various locations in Essex County, authorities said.
Officials declined to identify which towns the vehicles were stolen from, but did say that several came from Bergen, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
The investigation began in August 2011, when the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the Newark Police Department noticed an unusual number of stolen vehicles being left in one part of the city had come from communities well outside the area.
“What stood out for them was that a lot of these vehicles were not being stolen locally,” said Samuel DeMaio, the director of the Newark Police Department. “Traditionally our stolen vehicle recoveries are from Irvington, Orange, Elizabeth. These were vehicles being stolen from an array of municipalities, literally from Ocean to Bergen County, with a large number coming from Bergen County.”
Newark police then contacted law enforcement in those communities, who together launched Operation High-End, which eventually involved the State Police, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and assistance from the Millburn and Jersey City police departments.
“When you have cases like this one come together, where criminals don’t know borders, where they go to other counties in other parts of the state to commit crimes and they come back to another county to seek refuge and plan additional crimes, it truly takes collaboration to be effective,” said Lt. Col. Matt Wilson of the New Jersey State Police.
Patricio Hernandez, 33, of Newark, has been identified as the ringleader, Essex officials said. Also arrested yesterday were Jimmy Nunez, 31, Nathan Ocascio, 20, Efrain “Macho” Rivera, 30, Junior Vazquez, 31, Luis Montalvo, 46 and Melisha “MiMi” Martinez, 22, and a 17-year-old male, all of whom are from Newark.
Also arrested were Miguel Vega, 21, of East Orange, Matthew Policarpio 24, of Bloomfield and Alexander Mayorga, 22, of Elizabeth.
All were charged with conspiracy to commit theft and receiving stolen property. More arrests may be pending, Murray, the acting prosecutor, said.