A state grand jury in Trenton on Friday indicted 21 people in connection with an international ring that snatched luxury cars from towns along Route 17 in Bergen and Rockland counties and elsewhere before shipping them to West Africa.
Four others already have pleaded guilty as a result of an investigation dubbed "Operation 17 Corridor," acting Attorney General Robert Lougy said Friday.
The probe included Demarest and Paramus police and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and led to recovery of more than 90 stolen cars worth well over $4 million.
Besides Bergen and Rockland, the ring operated in Hudson, Morris, Union, Essex and other counties, he said.
Members scouted golf courses, pricey restaurants, malls and suburban driveways to find the specific luxury cars they coveted, working in teams to commit armed carjackings and other thefts, authorities said.
One pulled up in a Mercedes stolen from Saddle Brook to a man in front of his home in Montclair, demanded his keys and reached behind his back as if he had a gun, then drove off in the victim's 2014 BMW 650i while an accomplice took the Mercedes, they said.
Last Oct. 6, one of three carjackers who pulled up in a black BMW pointed a gun at a valet at a popular Hanover restaurant on Route 10 and demanded the keys to a 2015 Mercedes S550 and to a 2015 Bentley Continental GT worth $204,000. They then fled with the vehicles.
Other vehicles were stolen from wealthy neighborhoods where drivers left key fobs inside or from gas stations, convenience stores or car washes after vehicles were left running, Hoffman said.
Some were retagged with new VINs and taken to another state for new titles and temporary tags.
Crew members "cooled off" the hot cars at airport parking garages, residential parking complexes and elsewhere before fences moved them using "wheel men," authorities said.
Some were sold domestically but most were exported to Ghana, Nigeria and other West African countries at a considerable markup, they said.
The 16-month investigation was led by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the NJSP, assisted by Port Authority police, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and various local agencies, Hoffman said.