High-tech car theft ring is bro­ken up

Ti­juana mo­tor­cy­cle club mem­bers stole 150 Jeeps in San Diego area, au­thor­i­ties say.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Greg Mo­ran greg.mo­ran@sdunion­tri­bune.com

Fed­eral and state law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties say they have bro­ken up a so­phis­ti­cated auto theft ring run by a Ti­juana-based mo­tor­cy­cle club that swiped 150 Jeep Wran­glers in San Diego County over the last sev­eral years.

The Jeeps were later sold in Mex­ico or stripped for parts that were sold in Mex­ico, As­sis­tant U.S. Atty. Mark Conover said at a news con­fer­ence at the fed­eral build­ing in down­town San Diego. The stolen ve­hi­cles were worth $4.5 mil­lion.

Nine mem­bers of the Hooli­gans mo­tor­cy­cle club face charges of con­spir­acy to trans­port stolen ve­hi­cles in for­eign com­merce.

Three men were ar­rested Tues­day — one was at a Spring Val­ley home, an­other was al­ready in state cus­tody on other charges and a third was at the San Ysidro bor­der cross­ing.

Six other men re­main fugi­tives in Mex­ico, Conover said. Of the nine peo­ple named in the in­dict­ment, seven are U.S. ci­ti­zens, though the club is based in and op­er­ates in Mex­ico.

Au­thor­i­ties said thieves ex­ploited a de­sign fea­ture of the Jeep Wran­gler, gained ac­cess to a pro­pri­etary data­base that con­tains codes used to cre­ate du­pli­cate keys for each car and then used a high-tech com­puter to get away with the cars.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, “Op­er­a­tion Last Ride,” be­gan dur­ing the sum­mer of 2014 af­ter a se­ries of Jeep thefts across the county. Prose­cu­tors said law en­force­ment gained a huge break when a home­owner’s se­cu­rity sys­tem cap­tured the theft of the owner’s car on tape.

Conover said the Jeeps are pricey, pop­u­lar in Mex­ico and easy to re­sell there. The start­ing price for a 2017 Jeep Wran­gler is about $28,000.

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