Filed Under:Claims, Litigation

Motorcycle gang charged in high-tech auto theft scheme targeting Jeeps

Theft of more than 150 Jeep Wranglers worth approximately $4.5 million

After stealing the Jeeps in San Diego County, Hooligan Motorcycle gang members allegedly transported them to Tijuana, Mexico, where they were sold or stripped for parts, according to the charges. (Photo: iStock)
After stealing the Jeeps in San Diego County, Hooligan Motorcycle gang members allegedly transported them to Tijuana, Mexico, where they were sold or stripped for parts, according to the charges. (Photo: iStock)

This story is reprinted with permission from FC&&S Legal, the industry’s only comprehensive digital resource designed for insurance coverage law professionals. Visit the website to subscribe.

Nine members of the Hooligans Motorcycle gang have been charged by a federal grand jury in California with participating in a sophisticated scheme to steal scores of Jeep Wranglers and motorcycles in San Diego, California, using handheld electronic devices and stolen codes.

Related: Top 10 metro areas for auto thefts with keys 

Prosecutors alleged that the defendants were responsible for the theft of more than 150 Jeep Wranglers worth approximately $4.5 million within San Diego County since 2014. The Hooligans used high-tech methods to disable security systems and steal the Jeeps in just a few minutes, in the middle of the night, while unsuspecting owners slept nearby, the government said. After stealing the Jeeps in San Diego County, the Hooligans transported them to Tijuana, Mexico, where they were sold or stripped for parts, according to the charges.

Used VIN to get key codes


“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. 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.” 

The indictment alleged that the Hooligans did their homework before a theft by targeting a specific vehicle days before the actual theft would take place. As alleged, they 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, according to the government. 

No alarms triggered or forced entry


In the summer of 2014, San Diego County was hit with a rash of Jeep Wrangler thefts. Almost all the thefts occurred in the middle of the night or early morning, and almost all of the Wranglers were equipped with alarms. Yet no alarms were ever triggered, and there was never any broken glass or other signs of forced entry. Agents from the Regional Auto Theft Task Force, known as RATT, at first were perplexed. 

Related: Dude, where's my car? How not to get your ride stolen

Then, on September 26, 2014, a Jeep owner parked her 2014 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon in the driveway of her home in Rancho Bernardo. She returned to the driveway early the next morning to find the Jeep missing. The Jeep owner, however, recently had installed a surveillance camera on her house, and it happened to be trained on the driveway. 

Handheld electronic device used to turn on engine


Prosecutors said that the surveillance footage revealed that three men stole her Jeep around 2:30 a.m. 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. 

According to the government, Chrysler responded that a duplicate key had been requested for nearly every one of the 20 stolen Jeeps. Moreover, nearly every one of the keys had apparently been requested through the same dealership in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The Jeeps’ owners did not request duplicate keys and were unaware that anyone had.

After additional investigation, agents began interrupting Jeep thefts and made several arrests. Through these arrests, prosecutors said, agents learned that the Tijuana-based Hooligan Motorcycle gang was behind the operation.

Related: California auto insurance fraud, identity theft ring broken

Steven A. Meyerowitz, Esq., is the director of FC&S Legal, the editor-in-chief of the Insurance Coverage Law Report, and the founder and president of Meyerowitz Communications Inc. Email him at smeyerowitz@meyerowitzcommunications.com.

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