Postal worker holdup leads to muscle car theft ring arrests

DETROIT (AP) — Thieves are utilizing cloned key fobs to steal Dodge muscle automobiles and different high-powered autos straight from dealerships and even automakers in Michigan, then promoting them for tens of hundreds of {dollars} lower than their worth, in line with authorities and courtroom information.

For one Ohio-based theft ring, all of it got here crashing down after a January holdup of a U.S. postal employee led authorities to attach a number of males to brazen automotive thefts within the Detroit space, lengthy house to the nation’s largest automakers, together with Dodge, which is now owned by worldwide conglomerate Stellantis.

Investigators then found that new Chargers, Challengers, Durangos and Ram pickups value $50,000 to $100,000 have been turning up in Ohio, Indianapolis and East Value delivery ports after being bought on the road for $3,500 to $15,000, in line with a legal criticism.

Thieves within the Detroit space are primarily going after Dodge autos with Hellcat engines, together with Chargers and Challengers — “the quick ones,” Sgt. Jerry Hanna with the Macomb Auto Theft Squad mentioned.

“If a patrol automotive will get them, they aren’t stopping and so they’re quicker than patrol automobiles. They’re 150 mph all day,” he mentioned.

As an alternative of stealing them off the road, they’re driving them straight off dealership and meeting plant heaps.

Simply this 12 months, a few half-dozen autos — primarily Dodge Ram TRX pickups — have been taken from loads outdoors an meeting plant in Macomb County.

After safety measures have been stepped up at some heaps with Dodge autos, greater than a dozen 2022 Ford F-150 Raptor pickup vehicles have been swiped from a plant lot in June in suburban Dearborn. Greater than a dozen Ford Mustang’s have been stolen in early September from the automaker’s meeting plant in Flat Rock, southeast of Detroit.

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Thieves have focused Dodges through the use of handheld digital “professional pads” — a locksmith’s instrument that may clone keys by plugging into inside ports within the autos, in line with the federal criticism within the Ohio case.

Authorities weren’t in search of stolen autos once they stopped Devin Rice on Jan. 31 after a postal employee in Shaker Heights, outdoors Cleveland, was robbed at gunpoint of a mailbox key. However courtroom information present {that a} search of his automotive after which his house turned up not simply stolen mail, bogus checks, and credit score and debit playing cards, but additionally a Ram pickup, a Vary Rover SUV and a Dodge with a Hellcat engine — all stolen.

Rice and others have been indicted in federal courtroom in Ohio in June. Jaylen Harris, Lavelle Jones and Hakim Benjamin are charged with conspiracy and interstate transport of stolen autos. Rice, Harris and Jones are also charged with mail theft. Their trials are scheduled subsequent 12 months.

Harris’ lawyer declined remark. The AP left electronic mail and cellphone messages looking for remark from attorneys for Benjamin, Rice and Jones.

Harris advised the FBI that he and Jones had been in touch by means of Instagram with individuals within the Detroit space to get stolen autos, in line with the criticism. Harris mentioned these thieves “have been additionally promoting to consumers in different areas, together with Chicago and Indianapolis,” the criticism mentioned.

Movies posted on social media present how the high-horsepower autos outpaced and evaded police.

A choose said in a detention order that “Benjamin drove a 2022 Dodge Challenger valued at $95,000 at 120 mph down Ohio’s State Route 2 on a Sunday night in February.”

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“Spike strips have been ultimately wanted to remind Benjamin that the regulation required him to adjust to police orders” the choose wrote.

About two years in the past, police in Ohio’s Ottawa County started noticing the autos blasting alongside state Route 2. The sheriff’s workplace bought calls about reckless driving, Capt. Aaron Leist mentioned.

“These automobiles are going 140-150 mph. All have the Hellcat engines. We had numerous pursuits. We didn’t catch all of them,” he mentioned.

Investigators realized the autos largely have been being stolen within the Detroit space and brought to Cleveland. Some additionally have been destined for Memphis, Tennessee, Leist mentioned.

“We began working with (Stellantis) in early 2022,” he mentioned. “They’d name us and inform us `We’ve got these automobiles lacking.’”

A spokeswoman for Stellantis declined to remark.

Added safety measures at some heaps have included concrete obstacles, in line with regulation enforcement.

Then final fall, a dealership’s showroom northwest of Detroit was damaged into. Somebody drove a Ram pickup by means of the constructing’s glass wall and “all the opposite automobiles adopted go well with,” mentioned Jeff Schneider, basic supervisor at Szott Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Highland Township.

“I believe they have been capable of finding some keys in a desk drawer and used them,” he added.

Police tracked one of many stolen automobiles, a Durango Hellcat SRT valued at about $100,000, to a suburb northwest of Detroit. The motive force had crashed right into a brick wall whereas fleeing. A 2021 Dodge Durango GT, 2021 Dodge Ram TRX and a 2017 Dodge Charger Hellcat SRT have been later recovered.

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Authorities arrested 4 individuals. They weren’t believed to have stolen the autos, however to have paid $5,000 for one.

“Within the Detroit space they’re promoting them for like $3,500,” Hanna mentioned. “As soon as they get that cash of their pockets they exit and steal one other one.”

For dealerships and their insurance coverage corporations, the price is excessive. Even recovered autos can’t be bought for what they have been as soon as value.

Schneider mentioned his dealership got here up with an “old fashioned” resolution: parking boots.

“It’s a deterrent that works amazingly,” he mentioned. “We put boots on all of the Hellcats.”