Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that an Essex County man pleaded guilty on Feb. 26 to a first-degree charge for his role as a top member of a major international carjacking and stolen car trafficking ring that stole high-end cars in New Jersey and New York and shipped them to West Africa.
Kyle Champagnie, 30, of Irvington, pleaded guilty on Feb. 26 to a first-degree charge of financial facilitation of criminal activity before Superior Court Judge Stuart Peim in Union County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to 16 years in state prison, including eight years of parole ineligibility. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 21.
“Champagnie was a top member of this dangerous ring, which would stop at nothing to get desired makes and models of high-end cars, including committing brutal carjackings,” said Attorney General Porrino. “By putting this criminal in prison for a lengthy term, we’re making our communities safer.”
“We reduced carjackings in Newark and the surrounding region by more than half thanks to the concerted efforts of the Attorney General’s Office, the New Jersey State Police, HSI, the Port Authority and the Essex County Carjacking Task Force,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “With Operation Jacked in 2014 and Operation 17 Corridor in 2015, we infiltrated the black market for stolen vehicles and slammed on the brakes.”
“The overseas demand for high-end cars was being met by this dangerous criminal group, which did not hesitate to resort to violence to get their hands on these vehicles,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The cooperative effort, which led to the arrests and guilty pleas of those involved, sends a powerful message that we will be unwavering in our pursuit of those who commit these often violent and traumatic crimes.”
Deputy Attorney General Anthony Torntore took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. The defendant was charged in “Operation Jacked,” an investigation led by the 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 12 other law enforcement agencies. Investigators recovered 160 stolen cars worth more than $8 million, primarily at ports in New Jersey and New York. The Division of Criminal Justice indicted 26 defendants in December 2014 on charges of first-degree racketeering, including Champagnie and another alleged ringleader, two alleged shippers for the ring, and 21 associates who fenced, carjacked and stole vehicles, or acted as wheel men who moved and hid the luxury cars. More than a dozen defendants previously pleaded guilty in Operation Jacked and are facing prison terms ranging from five to 20 years.
The ring targeted high-end vehicles, particularly luxury SUVs made by Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Honda, Porsche, Jaguar and Aston Martin. Twenty-seven of the recovered vehicles had been taken in carjackings, a majority of which involved a gun or other weapon. Carjackers would often target victims by bumping their vehicles from behind on the highway. When victims stopped to address the situation, the carjackers would take their key by force or threat, or simply jump into the vehicle and drive off if the key was left inside.
Other vehicles were stolen in “soft steals” from various 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. Thefts occurred at carwashes and at airports, where drivers would leave cars running at terminals to unload luggage. In other cases, ring members obtained cars through fraud, using bad checks to buy cars from new and used car dealerships. In West Africa, the luxury vehicles trafficked by the ring commanded prices in excess of new market value in the U.S.
Shippers would load the cars into shipping containers, which were taken to ports for transport by ship to West Africa. Of the 160 vehicles recovered, 140 were recovered at ports, including Port Newark, Port Elizabeth and Howland Hook Seaport in Staten Island, N.Y. The ring operated in multiple counties in New Jersey, including Essex, Union, Morris, Monmouth, Middlesex, Bergen and Somerset Counties.
The lead prosecutors for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau are Deputy Attorney General Anthony Torntore and Deputy Attorney General Debra Conrad, Senior Counsel for the Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Division Director Jill Mayer, former Deputy Division Director Christopher Romanyshyn, and Division Director Elie Honig. Deputy Attorney General Susan Wolansky is handling the forfeiture action in this case. The investigation was conducted for the New Jersey State Police by members of the Auto Unit and other members of the Special Investigations Section, including Detective Sgt. Aaron Auclair, Detective Sgt. Jeovanny Rodriguez, Detective Sgt. 1st Class Enrique Bryan, Lt. Ron Micucci, Detective Cory Rodriguez and Trooper Nicholas Rubino.
The following agencies assisted the State Police and Division of Criminal Justice in Operation Jacked:
- Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Department
- ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark (Border Enforcement Security Task Force)
- Union County Prosecutor’s Office
- Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
- Massachusetts State Police
- Delaware State Police
- Connecticut State Police
- Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office
- Manalapan Police Department
- Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office
- U.S. Customs & Border Protection
- Bayonne Police Department
- Hudson County Sheriff’s Office
- U.S. Marshals Service
Valuable assistance also was provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
For Champagnie: Patrick Joyce, Esq., of Maplewood, N.J.