Ring targeted construction equipment

February 11, 2009 5:56:24 PM PST
Authorities have busted a brazen theft ring they say stole at least 100 luxury cars and other vehicles, including a construction rig driven by a thief who made a getaway down a New York highway. The stolen vehicles - worth about $2.5 million - were shipped to New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania and as far away as the Dominican Republic, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday at a joint news conference with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

The thieves swiped dump trucks and other heavy construction equipment, as well as Hummers, Porsches and Mercedes-Benz sedans. Investigators have recovered 17 vehicles so far.

"Some people try to smuggle jewels out of the country. These individuals tried to sneak off with Caterpillars and Hummers," Kelly said. "What they lacked in finesse they tried to compensate with audacity, but it made no difference."

In one instance, Kelly said, thieves drove a Caterpillar off a construction site and along the New York State Thruway before parking in a garage used to store the stolen vehicles. In another, a barge with stolen goods en route to the Dominican Republic was stopped before it reached port.

New York City police and the attorney general's office worked together because the ring spanned several states. On Wednesday, 12 people were arrested and awaiting arraignment in Bronx Supreme Court on charges including enterprise corruption, forgery and criminal possession of stolen property.

Luis Torres Gonzalez was believed to be the boss, responsible for acquiring forged documents. At least 11 others worked under him, stealing the vehicles and reselling them, investigators said. It wasn't immediately clear if Gonzalez had an attorney.

In one instance, a blue dump truck valued at $75,000 was sold for $3,000 on the black market, investigators said.

The charges were a result of a yearlong undercover investigation where officers used electronic surveillance and also physically monitored the ring. Investigators also recovered a computer system that they believe was used to alter vehicle identification numbers and create false identification documents for the members of the ring.

Kelly said that he has never seen a similar operation in his days with the NYPD, but he came across similar operations when he worked as U.S. Customs Service commissioner under President Bill Clinton.


NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS

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