TOTOWA, N.J. – Twenty One men, including one from Watchung, have been charged in the takedown of a major international carjacking and stolen car trafficking ring that stole luxury cars from suburbs along the Route 17 corridor in New Jersey and neighboring New York, as well as other suburban communities in northern and central New Jersey, shipping the cars to West Africa where they command premium prices according to Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. Eighteen men were arrested yesterday on charges including first-degree racketeering, carjacking and money laundering as a multi-agency team fanned out to execute arrest warrants. Three men are being sought as fugitives on arrest warrants.
Approximately 90 stolen cars worth more than $4 million were recovered in “Operation 17 Corridor,” a 16-month investigation led by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police, assisted by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and numerous other agencies.
“The criminals in this ring 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,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “While fortunately we have not had anyone shot or murdered during a carjacking in this case, we’ve seen in other cases how quickly things can turn deadly when carjackers carry out the type of armed ambush this ring committed. We’ve completely dismantled this dangerous network and charged its members with first-degree crimes.”
“The last time we took down a major carjacking ring, the focus of the operation was Essex County, and the result of that operation and the ongoing work of the State Police and the Essex County Carjacking Task Force was dramatic: carjackings cut by nearly two-thirds,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Now we’ve targeted carjackers who have infiltrated the suburbs in search of the high-end vehicles they prize. We’re confident that, once again, this operation will result in safer communities.”
“This is the second major carjacking ring that we have dismantled in the span of less than two years,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “I recognize the outstanding work of all of the agencies involved, particularly the detectives assigned to the State Police Interstate Theft North Unit. We are confident that the success of this multi-agency effort will have a positive and lasting effect in our communities, while disrupting a major cog in the international car theft market.”
“Working cooperatively with our federal and state law enforcement partners, we have taken dangerous criminals off the streets and taken significant steps to prevent this heinous property crime,” said Port Authority Chief Security Officer Thomas Belfiore. “Since some of this illicit activity occurred at our facilities, we will remain extra vigilant in combating the shipment of stolen or carjacked vehicles to overseas destinations.”
“This operation clearly demonstrates the combined strength of law enforcement in attacking a plague of property crime that has run a toll in the millions of dollars on our community,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly of HSI Newark. “These individuals were part of an elaborate ring of international car thieves. By working together on the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, we are able to multiply our resources and build on our commitment to the protection of American people on a local and national level.”
Acting Attorney General Hoffman announced the arrests at Totowa State Police Station with State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes, Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig, Deputy Superintendent Edward Cetnar of the Port Authority Police Department, Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark, Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray, Executive Director Walter Arsenault of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and representatives of the other partnering agencies.
These are examples of carjackings allegedly committed by members of this ring:
- At about 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2014, a man was sitting in his black Mercedes S550 in the parking lot at The Mills at Jersey Gardens shopping mall in Elizabeth when a black car pulled up behind his vehicle. A man with his face masked from his nose to his chin approached the victim’s car pointing a black handgun at him. The carjacker ordered the victim to get out of the car and leave behind all of his belongings. The victim complied, leaving his car keys, iPhone, iPad, wallet and numerous credit cards. The carjacker got into the victim’s car and sped off.
- Two weeks later, on Sept. 25, 2014, a similar carjacking occurred at The Outlet Collection Mall in Elizabeth. A man was in his black Mercedes S550 when he was approached by an armed gunman who told him to get out of the car and keep on walking or he would be shot.
- On the afternoon of Aug. 24, 2015, a man was walking toward his 2014 BMW 650i in front of his home in Montclair when he saw a man get out of a silver Mercedes and attempt to pull the front of his T-shirt over his nose to mask his face. The carjacker, who did not succeed in keeping the shirt over his face, approached the victim and ordered him to turn over his car keys. As the carjacker gave that command, he reached behind his back, leading the victim to believe he was reaching for a gun in his waistband. The victim surrendered his keys and ran away. The carjacker drove off in the BMW and another driver left in the Mercedes, which had been stolen that day in Saddle Brook. Defendant Nasir Turner, 36, of Newark, N.J., has been charged with first-degree carjacking as the alleged carjacker in this incident.
- Shortly after 8 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2015, three carjackers in a black BMW drove into the parking lot of a popular Italian restaurant on Route 10 in Hanover. One of the men pointed a gun at a valet outside of the restaurant and demanded the keys to a 2015 Mercedes S550 and a 2015 Bentley Continental GT, which were parked in front of the restaurant. The Bentley is worth approximately $204,000. The valet turned over the keys and the three carjackers fled in the vehicles. Defendant Derrick Moore, 36, of Keansburg, N.J., has been charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit carjacking in connection with that incident.
The ring operated based on demand for specific vehicles. The types of vehicles frequently sought included various models of Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Maserati, Porsche, Jaguar and Bentley. Some cars were taken through carjackings, while others were stolen from locations where the thieves were able to steal them with one or more of their electronic keys or key fobs, which are critical to the resale value of the cars. Three men were charged as leaders of the auto theft trafficking ring. Within the ring, individuals filled various roles, including carjacker, car thief, wheel man, fence, shipper and buyer. Shippers would load the cars into shipping containers, which were taken to ports for transport by ship to West Africa.
In addition to carjackings, ring members used a variety of methods to steal cars with their keys. Cars were stolen from gas stations, convenience stores, carwashes and airports, where the drivers got out and left vehicles running. Other cars were stolen from car dealerships. Thieves also would search wealthy neighborhoods and find high-end cars unlocked with the key fob in the glove box. In other cases, individuals in the ring would use fraudulent credit cards with stolen or fictitious identities to rent desired cars from car rental agencies and simply never return them. Of the cars recovered, 19 were rental cars. Some of the cars would be “retagged” with new vehicle identification numbers and taken to another state, where new titles and temporary tags were obtained. In this way the stolen cars were essentially “laundered.” A total of 17 of the stolen cars that were recovered had been retagged.
After vehicles were stolen, the theft crew typically would store or “cool off” the cars at various locations, including short-term airport parking garages, residential parking complexes, residential back yards, commercial warehouses and shipping containers, to make sure they were not equipped with tracking devices that would lead law enforcement to them. Other times, members of the ring removed tracking devices from the cars. After a vehicle was sufficiently “cooled,” it was moved to a “fence.”
There were multiple levels of fences through which the stolen cars typically moved before reaching their ultimate destinations. The fences arrested within this organization would generally buy stolen cars directly from a theft crew or a lower-level fence within the organization. The fences then moved the car up to a higher-level fence or, in the case of a high-ranking fence, sold the car directly to a buyer. The stolen cars were fenced both domestically and internationally. Domestically, the stolen vehicles have been found in Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Georgia, Texas, and New Jersey. Internationally, the vehicles were most frequently exported to West Africa, including the countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, and Gambia. Luxury vehicles can sell in West Africa for prices in excess of new market value in the United States.
The fences used “wheel men” to move the stolen cars to different locations while purchase prices were being negotiated with other fences and potential buyers. The “shippers” who have been charged allegedly facilitated the organization’s illicit operation by arranging for stolen cars to be placed on shipping containers and transported to different seaports within New Jersey and New York. They completed a bill of lading for the container that typically misrepresented the actual contents of the container. The loading locations used include Evans Terminal in Hillside, N.J., and various locations in the Bronx, N.Y.
Of the 90 vehicles recovered, 23 were recovered at ports used by the ring, including Port Newark, Port Elizabeth, Global Terminal in Bayonne, and the Howland Hook Seaport in Staten Island, N.Y. Investigators believe that additional vehicles were being moved by this criminal enterprise, beyond those recovered in the investigation. The ring operated in Rockland County, N.Y., and multiple counties in New Jersey, including Morris, Bergen, Essex, Union, Hudson, Monmouth, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Somerset Counties.
The following agencies assisted in Operation 17 Corridor, under the leadership of the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice:
- Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Department
- ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark (Border Enforcement Security Task Force)
- Morris County Prosecutor’s Office
- Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
- Demarest Police Department
- Paramus Police Department
- South Orange Police Department
- Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office
- Hanover Police Department
- Linden Police Department
- U.S. Customs & Border Protection
- Essex County Sheriff’s Office
- Hudson County Sheriff’s Office
- Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor
- U.S. Marshals Service
Valuable assistance also was provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The investigation was conducted for the New Jersey State Police by members of the Interstate Theft North Unit and other members of the Intelligence and Criminal Enterprise Section, including Detective Cory Rodriguez, who is lead detective, Lt. Ronald Micucci, Detective Sgt. 1st Class Robert Tobey, Detective Sgt. Aaron Auclair, Detective Sgt. Anthony Aguanno, Detective Sgt. Pete Stilianessis, Trooper Nicholas Rubino, Trooper Armando Rivas and Trooper Michael Ferrara.
The lead prosecutors who conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau are Deputy Attorney General Debra Conrad, Senior Counsel for the Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Danielle Scarduzio, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Jacqueline Smith, Bureau Chief Jill Mayer, Deputy Division Director Christopher Romanyshyn and Division Director Elie Honig.
All 21 of the defendants who were charged are charged with first-degree racketeering, first-degree money laundering, and second- or third-degree receiving stolen property and fencing. Those defendants listed below with asterisks by their names remain fugitives. The others were arrested.
The investigation revealed that a number of individuals exercised leadership roles in the criminal enterprise, and certain defendants associated more closely with particular leaders or individuals within the larger enterprise. Three men were charged as leaders of the enterprise. In addition to the other charges, they were charged with the second-degree crime of leader of an auto theft trafficking network.
The defendants are listed below under certain roles. However, many defendants assumed multiple roles. For example, the alleged leaders also assumed other roles, including high-level fence. In addition, street-level fences also acted as carjackers/thieves, and vice versa.
- Tyja Evans, 39, of Watchung, N.J.;
- Ibn Jones, 37, of Newark, N.J.; and
- Eddie Craig, 36, of Beverly, N.J.
Shippers and High-Level Fences
- Peter Cleland, 32, of East Orange, N.J.;
- Sowah Anan, 31, of Elizabeth, N.J.;
- Manuel Oliveres, 44, of Jersey City, N.J.;
- Adama Fofana, 53, of the Bronx, N.Y.; and
- Alpha Jalloh, 26, of New York, N.Y.
Higher-Level Fence and Retagger of Vehicles
- Panel Dalce, 43, of South Orange, N.J.
- Frazier Gibson, 29, of East Orange, N.J.;
- Eric Aikens, 40, of Newark, N.J.;
- Lavell Burnett, 38, of Newark, N.J.; and
- Damion Mikell, 32, of Newark, N.J.
Carjackers, Car Thieves and/or Wheel Men (*identifies defendants who are fugitives)
- Nasir Turner, 36, of Newark, N.J.;
- Derrick Moore, 36, of Keansburg, N.J.;
- *Kenneth Daniels, 29, of Newark, N.J.;
- Tyree Johnson, 22, of Newark, N.J.;
- *Donnel Carroll, 28, of Newark, N.J.;
- *Khalil Culbreath, 38, of Newark, N.J.;
- Terrence Wilson, 39, of Newark, N.J.; and
- Marquis Price, 32, of Newark, N.J.
First-degree carjacking carries a sentence of 10 to 30 years in state prison, with a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed, and a fine of up to $200,000. First-degree racketeering carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, with a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed, and a fine of up to $200,000. First-degree money laundering carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, including a period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed, with the sentence to run consecutively to sentences for any other charges, and a fine of up to $500,000. Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The individuals who were arrested were processed and lodged in jail with bails ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. The charges were filed by complaint. They are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because they are indictable offenses, the charges against the defendants will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.
The defendants are scheduled to be in court on Friday, Oct. 30, at 1:30 p.m. for a first appearance on the charges before Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Taylor in Morristown.