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Indictments returned in NJ/NY luxury-vehicle theft ring

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

UPDATE: A wanted fugitive caught by Saddle River police after a car burglary in Allendale earlier this year was among 26 people indicted by a state grand jury in Trenton yesterday on charges of stealing and carjacking luxury vehicles in New Jersey and New York and shipping them to West Africa, where they sold for significantly more than the U.S. sticker price.

Abdur Abdullah, 33, of Irvington ( inset, above ) was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and was being sought by the New Jersey State Police as part of the “Operation Jacked” takedown that produced the indictments when he was caught.

Investigators recovered 160 vehicles made by Aston Martin, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche, Mercedes Benz and other high-level manufacturers — 140 of them at ports in New Jersey and New York, including Port Newark, Port Elizabeth and Howland Hook Seaport in Staten Island — valued at more than $8 million altogether.

CLIFFVIEW PILOT broke the story in April: Fugitive in international stolen car ring caught trying to steal BMW in Allendale, police say

The ring targeted high-end vehicles operated in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Middlesex, Monmouth and Union counties, acting NJ Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.

More than two dozen were taken at gun- or knifepoint, authorities said. Others were stolen after the thieves swiped electronic car keys — which authorities said are critical to the vehicles’ resale value.

Some of the crew members targeted victims by bumping their cars from behind, getting them to stop and get out to exchange insurance information, Hoffman said.

They then stole the cars either by force — or simply jumping in and driving off if the key was left in the ignition, he said.

Thefts also occurred at car washes and at airports, where drivers left cars running at terminals while unloading luggage.

Cars were stolen from manufacturers as they sat on carrier-trailers in lots, and other times from car dealerships. Valets at restaurants and other businesses were held up, so the thieves could ransack key boxes.

They also scouted wealthy neighborhoods for unlocked high-end cars that had a key fob left in the glove box.

And, finally, some wrote bum checks to buy the cars from new and used car dealers.

The crews ordinarily stored — or “cooled off” — freshly stolen cars for awhile in hospital parking garages, long-term parking garages, residential backyards, warehouses and private storage garages to make sure they weren’t equipped with tracking devices that could draw police to them, Hoffman said.

Once a vehicle was sufficiently “cooled,” it was moved to a fence, he said.

The stolen cars typically moved through at least two levels of fences before reaching their ultimate destinations, authorities said.

Carjackers and thieves, who worked in “theft crews,” typically were paid $4,000 to $8,000 per vehicle by street-level fences, who sold cars up the chain to higher-level fences, Hoffman said. Fences often used “wheel men” to drive the vehicles to different spots while prices were being negotiated, they said.

Shippers then loaded the cars into containers, which were taken to various ports for transport by ship to West Africa, he said.

Although most of the cars where shipped overseas, some were sold in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts, Hoffman said.

The NJSP arrested the 26 defendants following a 10-month investigation involving the state Division of Criminal Justice and assisted by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and a dozen other agencies.

Charges include racketeering, carjacking and money laundering, among other counts, with bails ranging from $100,000 to $1 million.

“This ring we took down was a double threat,” Hoffman said. “Its members committed carjackings that put the public in grave danger, while at the same time, through their fencing and shipping operations, they created demand that motivated others to commit carjackings.

“We hit them hard from both ends, completely dismantling their operations.”

A witness called Allendale police on April 16 after seeing Abdullah in the driver’s seat of her friend’s 2014 BMW parked in a garage, Sgt. Terrence Lawler told CLIFFVIEW PILOT at the time.

Abdullah took off after she saw him, the woman told police.

Surrounding departments were notified and, moments later, Saddle River police stopped a grey Dodge Charger with two occupants, Lawler said.

The driver, Attallah Ahmad of Irvington, was charged with being an accomplice to burglary and criminal attempt. She posted $10,000 bail and was released from the Bergen County Jail.

Abdullah, meanwhile, was turned over to state authorities.

He’s charged in Allendale with burglary, criminal attempt and providing false information to police — for giving police a fake name that was corrected through fingerprinting.

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