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NJ police: Theft ring stole $300K in luxury cars

NEWARK, N.J. — Nearly a dozen people have been arrested in a Newark-based theft ring that stole $300,000 worth of luxury cars from northern to southern New Jersey, law enforcement officials announced Tuesday.

Acting county Prosecutor Carolyn Murray said the thieves traveled to affluent communities from Bergen to Ocean counties in search of luxury vehicles. They would usually strike during the early morning and most often would grab cars that still had the keys inside, Murray said.

Authorities said most of the cars were resold for a fraction of their value. Others were stripped for their parts.

Eleven people were arrested Monday night, most of them from Newark. Prosecutors allege that 33-year-old Freddie Munoz of Newark, also known as Patricio Hernandez, was the ring leader. Prosecutors did not know if Munoz or the others had retained attorneys as of Tuesday. They face charges of conspiracy and theft.

Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio said police started investigating last August when the department began recovering an unusually high number of luxury vehicles in Newark from other areas. DeMaio declined to say which municipalities the cars were stolen from, but said many were from Bergen County.

Police have recovered six vehicles intact, including a Porsche, a Ferrari, a Mercedes and two BMWs. They towed an additional 10 vehicles, and are searching them to determine if they were stolen by the ring.

The Newark police joined forces with the prosecutors' offices of Essex and Bergen counties, the New Jersey State Police, and police departments in Jersey City and Millburn.

"When you have cases like this come together, where criminals don't know borders ... it truly takes an integrated response to be effective," said Lt. Colonel Matthew Wilson of the New Jersey State Police.

The investigation is continuing, DeMaio said. "We certainly think it will bear more fruit as it moves forward," he said.