2017 Jeep Wrangler UnlimitedEnlarge Photo
Careful planning and plotting allowed nine members of the Tijuana-based Hooligans motorcycle gang to get away with stealing 150 Jeep Wranglers in San Diego County since 2014. But, after years of investigating, the gang members have finally been caught.
Local news affiliate Fox 5 reports the nine suspects have been charged in a federal indictment with conspiracy to commit transportation of stolen vehicles in foreign commerce. Two have been arrested, one was already in custody, and six are believed to be fugitives in Mexico.
Not only have 150 Jeeps been stolen, but the gang members also stole dozens of motorcycles over the past three years as well. The vehicles were then sold or stripped for parts. The stolen Wranglers value amounted to $4.5 million.
This wasn't a typical smashed window and hotwire situation, though.
A gang member would obtain the VIN for a particular Jeep Wrangler then get a "secret codes" to create a duplicate key for the SUV. After that, the Wranglers were unlocked and an electronic device quickly programmed the new key to turn the engine over and simply drive away. It explains why owners never once heard an alarm go off, despite each of the 150 Jeeps having an alarm.
The feds caught a break when one owner reported her Wrangler stolen in September of 2014. Her vehicle was gone, but surveillance footage from a recently installed camera caught members in the act. With the surveillance footage in hand, law enforcement contacted Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles and asked if duplicate keys had been requested for a list of stolen Jeeps. Each and every Wrangler listed had a duplicate key made at the same dealership in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Seven of the criminals grew up in the United States, while two are Mexican citizens.
For local San Diego Wrangler owners, they may rest easy now.