Police put brakes on large UC/WNY auto theft ring
by Omar O. Alvarez, Reporter staff writer
Mar 03, 2000 | 505 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
UNION CITY - When their vehicle dies on them, your vehicle may be its replacement. Last Tuesday, the Union City Police Department and the New Jersey State Police announced an ongoing investigation that has thusfar resulted in the arrests of 68 people - 25 of them Union City residents and 10 of them West New Yorkers - and the recovery of 53 stolen vehicles. The sting, called "Operation Tagteam," started last January and revealed that crooks are looking to steal replacement vehicles that resemble their own used-up autos. Thieves with a broken down vehicle such as a Toyota Camry would search the neighborhoods for another Camry that was identical to theirs and steal it, police said. Police said they also recovered 300 counterfeit insurance cards and 300 counterfeit inspection stickers that were used to replace IDs on stolen vehicles. Once the IDs were replaced, the thieves could legally register the vehicle through the Department of Motor Vehicles, making it difficult for officers to spot stolen vehicles on routine stops. Police could not divulge information on how the stolen vehicles were identified but said that strong surveillance and attention to detail were crucial to the operation's success. "They would go out and steal cars that resembled theirs, then change the identifications, and they'd have another car just like their old one," explained NJ State Police Sgt. Richard Lane at a press conference Tuesday, adding that most stolen vehicles were older models, not luxury or brand new ones. Union City Det. Joseph Belviovene said some thieves would use screwdrivers to break into cars, but others used master keys for easy access. Auto dealers are the only people who can legally possess master keys. Belviovene could not elaborate further how such keys were available because "It would become widespread." "These were cars that working people in our community depended on to get to work and to run errands for their families," said Mayor Rudy Garcia. "Many could not afford insurance for theft and were left without their means of transportation." Det. Jose Diaz, an undercover agent, uncovered information that led officers to other thefts as he discovered that thieves were using closed-down garages as facilities to alter vehicles' identification numbers and forge information. Police recovered $6,000 worth of tools in what they called a "chop-shop," at 115 Oxford Ave. in Jersey City. Numerous garages at the site were being used for the same purposes, they said. Lane said the investigation was not large-scale because most thefts were handled on a case-by-case basis. But Union City Police Captain Brian Barrett said the state was nonetheless needed. "It was something that was new to us in Union City, so we contacted the State Police Department," said Barrett. "We're combining our forces to tackle this issue," said Garcia. "No one wants to wake up in the morning and go outside and have their vehicle missing." Garcia added that thefts in the city were scattered, but most occurred below 32nd Street. Police said the thefts are not unique to the city or Hudson County and that the department did not initially intend to have a 14-month investigation, but leads continued to appear. According to Lane, the court system will decide the sentence for those arrested, but based on similar cases, the criminals could expect a one to three year jail term sentence. Belviovene said the investigation is ongoing and will result in more arrests. "It's not just stopping," he said. "We're following up investigations and leads. The state police will be contacted if we need further assistance." Any vehicles recovered were returned to their rightful owners.
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