"The joy ride is over for these Hooligans," said Deputy U.S. Attorney Mark Conover. "For many of us, our cars are our most valuable possessions," he said. "These arrests have put the brakes on an organization that has victimized neighborhoods in a different way, by stealing something very personal, something that has required a lot of sacrifice to purchase."Conover said the gang also stole dozens of motorcycles.
The indictment alleges that the gang used old-fashioned shoe leather, a high-tech device, and a specific Chrysler dealership to pull off the thefts.
San Diego County faced a rash of Wrangler thefts in 2014. Conover says most of the Jeeps were stolen in the middle of the night, and most were equipped with alarms, yet no alarm ever went off. Police were perplexed about that until they caught a break. On Sept. 26, 2014, a Jeep was stolen out of a driveway in Rancho Bernardo, where a security camera showed the thieves' method.
Based on what they saw in the surveillance footage, officers sent Chrysler a list of 20 Jeeps that had been stolen and asked whether anyone had requested duplicate keys - and sure enough, a duplicate had been issued for all 20 - and all from the same dealership, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
The indictment alleges that the Hooligans would case a specific Jeep days ahead of stealing it, and would take down its vehicle identification number. Somehow they managed to obtain the secret key codes that would allow them to request a duplicate key for that particular Jeep. During the theft, the indictment says, the Hooligans would disable the alarms system, program the duplicate key using a handheld device, then simply drive away. The fact that Jeeps' engine bays can be easily accessed because of their external latches made the job even easier. (Authorities recommend Jeep owners purchase aftermarket locking latches.)
The collective value of the thefts is estimated at $4.5 million.