U.S. to Senegal car theft ring busted, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says

BY Rob Sgobbo, Joe Jackson and Brendan Brosh

Originally Published:Wednesday, June 30th 2010, 2:03 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 30th 2010, 4:15 PM

Authorities have slammed the brakes on a "steal-to-order" car theft ring that brazenly swiped SUVs from streets, garages and dealerships and shipped them overseas.

Thieves snatched Toyotas, Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, Infinities and Range Rovers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to resell in Africa and the U.S., state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

"They had a sophisticated operation, but we had a sophisticated collaboration with the police force," Cuomo told reporters.

The NYPD, state police and attorney general's Organized Crime Task Force snared 17 exporters, "steal men," brokers, a garage attendant and two Toyota dealership employees after a year-long investigation.

One suspect is still on the loose, but the rest were arraigned yesterday in Bronx Supreme Court on charges that include enterprise corruption, stolen property and forgery.

The ring is accused of swiping more than 450 vehicles in the past year in a scheme that could have been a sequel to "Gone in 60 Seconds."

Orders were placed with the "steal crew" specifying make, model, year, color and even accessories.

The crew searched for a car that matched, then lifted it using a key taken from a Toyota dealership or a laptop to reprogram the cars and keys.

The hot wheels were then stashed for a few days at one of four parking garages in the Bronx to be sure they didn't have tracking devices.

Eventually, the cars were given new vehicle identification numbers and ID tags and shipped via the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in crates marked "household goods."

Buyers in Senegal paid $25,000 or more for the cars. Others went to buyers in the tristate area as well as Georgia and Texas.

Investigators suspect the buyers were wealthy professionals who apparently preferred silver bodies and leather interiors.

Prosecutors identified the ringleader as Babacar (Bobby) Lo, who owns a body shop in the Bronx. He was ordered held without bail.

Lo's wife, Yaye, denied he was involved with the ring.

"No, I don't think so," she said. "He would never do something like that."

Workers at a garage on E.143rd St. also were baffled by the accusations against colleague Ali Abdou, 53, who had worked there for seven years.

"It's a surprise," said Bobby Arjuna. "This guy never do things like that. He just works the nights."

Other recently busted car theft rings in New Jersey and California were shipping stolen cars to West Africa, China and the Dominican Republic.

With Katie Nelson

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crim ... _says.html