SAN DIEGO–Nine members of the Hooligans Motorcycle gang are charged in a federal grand jury indictment with participating in a sophisticated scheme to steal scores of Jeep Wranglers and motorcycles in San Diego county using handheld electronic devices and stolen codes.
According to court records, the transnational criminal organization is 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 away with Jeeps in just a few minutes, in the middle of the night, while unsuspecting owners slept nearby. After stealing the Jeeps in San Diego county, the Hooligans transported them to Tijuana, Mexico, where the vehicles were sold or stripped for parts.
Three of nine defendants are in custody, including two that were arrested at a home in Spring Valley and at the border; the rest are fugitives believed to be in Mexico.
“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.”
“Through the remarkable diligence and work ethic of Regional Auto Theft Task Force detectives, and the inter-agency cooperation with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, a powerful case has been brought against the Hooligans gang,” said California Highway Patrol Captain Donald Goodbrand, head of the multi-agency Regional Auto Theft Task Force, which cracked the case.
“The work of law enforcement and crime fighting is 24/7,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum. “The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to work day and night to stop these large-scale international crime rings in order to protect our neighborhoods and the assets that are central to the everyday lives of people in our community.”
The indictment alleges that the Hooligans did their homework before a theft by targeting a specific vehicle days before the actual theft would take place. 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.
This was a method so new and technologically advanced it required investigators to exceed the ingenuity of the thieves.
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. But eventually they caught a break.
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. Fortunately, the Jeep owner had recently installed a surveillance camera on her house, and it happened to be trained on the driveway.
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.
Sure enough, 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, agents learned that the Tijuana-based Hooligan Motorcycle gang was behind the operation.