All it took was a few stolen key designs and computer codes for a biker gang to successfully steal more than 150 Jeep Wranglers — valued at $4.5 million — from the U.S. and relocate them to Mexico in a years-long heist.
The Department of Justice announced this week that nine members of the gang — known as the Hooligans — have officially been changed in the high-tech auto heist.
According to the DOJ, the gang was responsible for the theft of more than 150 Jeep Wranglers from San Diego County since 2014.
An indictment alleges that the Hooligans targeted a specific vehicle days before the actual theft took place. In doing so, the alleged thief obtained the vehicle identification number in advance and then managed to get secret key codes, which allowed them to create a duplicate key for that particular Jeep.
Then, during the theft, the Hooligans disabled the alarm system, programmed the duplicate key using a handheld electronic device, and quietly drove away without notice, the indictment states.
Once the Jeeps were in the possession of the game members they were transported to Tijuana, Mexico, and either sold or stripped for parts.
The DOJ says it was able to uncover the theft ring after a Sept. 2014 incident was caught on security camera. In this case, video showed three men stealing the Jeep by disabling the alarm and then using a key and a handheld electronic device to turn on the engine.
Based on the surveillance footage, law enforcement agents sent Chrysler a list of around 20 Jeeps that had recently been stolen in San Diego County and asked whether anyone had requested duplicate keys for the stolen Jeeps.
Chrysler responded that a duplicate key had been requested for nearly every one of the 20 stolen Jeeps. Nearly all of those keys had been requested through the same dealership in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. However, none of the Jeeps’ owners had requested the keys.
With this knowledge, investigators were able to interrupt some Jeep thefts and arrest those involved. Through this, agents learned of the Tijuana-based Hooligan gang.
“The joy ride is over for these Hooligans,” Deputy U.S. Attorney Mark Conover, said in a statement. “For many of us, our cars are our most valuable possessions. These arrests have put the brakes on an organization that has victimized neighborhoods in a different way – by stealing something very personal. Something that required a lot of sacrifice to purchase.”
In all, the nine members of the gang were charged with conspiracy to commit transportation of stolen vehicles in foreign commerce.