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Worldwide theft ring exported cars stolen in Bergen

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Authorities have smashed an international stolen car export ring, recovering more than 200 vehicles worth roughly $6 million — some of them stolen from Cresskill, Fort Lee, Hackensack and North Arlington. At the center of the operation, the government said: Hope “the Lady” Kantete, a large-scale fence who bought stolen cars from gang members and others, had them retagged, then shipped them to customers overseas.

Federal agents arrested 11 defendants this morning, several of them from Hudson County.

A twelfth is already serving time in state prison for another crime. Federal court appearances were set for this afternoon.

The stolen or carjacked vehicles were shipped from Ports Newark and Elizabeth to various West African destinations, including Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Gambia.

These included include Mercedes’ GL550, S550 and ML 350, as well as Honda CRVs, Acuras and Land Rovers.

Such operations come with “a significant price to New Jersey in terms of thefts and even violence,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Wilson, deputy superintendent of investigations for the New Jersey State Police.

“This case was particularly troublesome, as it involved not only widespread theft, but also repeated abuse of our export laws,” said ICE Director John Morton.

It took a confidential informant who already was dealing with Kantate and others accused in the ring to give federal agents the break they needed, according to federal records.

As investigators listened in, the cooperator bought vehicles that were either stolen or hijacked. One shipment included three from Bergen County worth a combined $149,000, a complaint filed is U.S. District Court in Newark says.

Those charged include:

Carlos L. Arnau, 32, of North Bergen;

Manuel De Jesus Olivares, 41; Christopher Barnes, 36; Kevin Miles, 28, John Turner, 53, Eromosele Okoeguale, 40; Mark Anthony Spivey, 46, all of Jersey City;

Roman Vladimir Dilone, 38; all of Union City.

Authorities laid out an organizational structure:

Layer One – People who steal or carjack vehicles. Many are gang members.

Layer Two – Fences who buy and sell vehicles for a few thousand dollars, even if they’re brand-new luxury cars worth ten times more, and “runner” who move the vehicles and collect payments.

Layer Three – People who retag the vehicles by replacing existing VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers), usually in parking lots, garages or on the street. Counterfeit titles are then produced to match the new VIN.

Layer Four – Customers. Some put in orders, telling the fences what type of vehicles they’re looking for. They often re-sell them.

Layer Five – Operation coordinators.

Vehicles are shipped abroad through a Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC), a company licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission, bonded and insured for purposes of exporting goods in foreign commerce. The NVOCC leases containers and guarantees space on vessels operated by major shipping carriers who do business only with bonded and insured companies.

“Because NVOCCs require documentation from persons shipping vehicles, customers typically use a middle person to conduct the transaction in an attempt to insulate themselves. Customers alternatively present fraudulent documentation to conceal the true information about the vehicles being exported overseas, such as altered Certificates of Title,” the government wrote in a release.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman praised special agents of Homeland Security Intelligence and N.J. State Police for the investigation. He also thanked Customs and Border Protection, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray, Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio and Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow, as well as the Essex and Hudson County Sheriff’s Departments, the Newark Police Department, Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Handling the case are Assistant U.S. Attorney José R. Almonte, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James Donnelly, and Senior Litigation Counsel Serina M. Vash of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.

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