TOTOWA - Police have arrested 26 people for their alleged roles in an international car theft ring.
More than 160 vehicles worth $8 million were recovered during a 10-month investigation dubbed "Operation Jacked," according to prosecutors.
Many of the cars were either stolen or carjacked from drivers in northern New Jersey.
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Acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman says carjackers were paid up to $8,000 for each stolen high-end vehicle.
Hoffman says carjackings are often tied to other, more serious crimes. "The murder several months ago of Mr. (Dustin) Friedland at the Short Hills mall, shows how far carjackers will go to achieve their goal," he says.
Since the mall killing, Essex County has seen several other carjacking cases involving high-end vehicles. On the same day as the mall carjacking, assailants carjacked a vehicle from a driveway in South Orange. In mid-January, a new Porsche was carjacked from an apartment complex on Morris Turnpike in Short Hills.
In early February, a Mercedes was carjacked in the middle of the day from the parking lot of a Millburn Japanese restaurant.
Investigators say most of the stolen cars were headed to West Africa, where officials say a used luxury car can cost more than a new one.
"Carjackers are motivated to steal, and even to murder by the demand that exists for these luxury vehicles," Hoffman says.
A total of 140 of the recovered cars were found at ports, including Port Elizabeth and Port Newark.
"To be crystal clear, we intend to prosecute them, they will get what they deserve," Hoffman says.
The suspects, who are all from New Jersey, are charged with crimes including carjacking, racketeering and money laundering. Six others are still being sought.