Stolen car ring targeting luxury vehicles busted

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N.J. Burkett reports from Staten Island.

Federal agents and the NYPD say they have busted a stolen car ring targeting luxury vehicles.

Police arrested seven people and recovered hundreds of cars, including BMW's, Mercedes Benz cars, and Range Rovers.

Officials say many of the vehicles were stolen from car rental companies and were being sent to West Africa.

Homeland Security agents say the cars were being loaded into shipping containers from ports in the New York City area.

The arrests were the result of a 19-month investigati0n involving several agencies.

The stolen cars include an aftermarket Mercedes costing $170,000 and a custom Range Rover at $200,000.

But on the dusty streets of places like Sierra Leone, they're worth double that to the warlords and arms traders who regard them as trophies.

But the black market for stolen luxury cars took a hit this week, after the indictment of the seven people who are charged with stealing 250 cars in less than two years.

Some were taken right off the streets. Others were stolen from rental companies using phony identification.

Investigators say all of them were packed into shipping containers for a long trip across the Atlantic aboard freighters from Port Newark, destined for half a dozen nations in West Africa.

And federal officials say the smugglers are very efficient.

"They would be sold to predominantly criminal organizations over there that had access to large amounts of cash to actually afford to purchase these vehicles," said Glenn Sorge, Deputy Special Agent in Charge with Homeland Security Investigations.

Investigators say the ship captains often have no idea what's going on until agents open the containers, or use enormous X-ray machines to look inside.

"If it's not shaped like a common household good, it's shaped like a vehicle, then most likely it's a vehicle once we do open that container," said Customs and Border Protection Deputy Chief Erkanda Cunningham.

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