21 charged with stealing hundreds of luxury cars in auto-theft ring
BY KIM JANSSEN Staff Reporter email@example.com July 30, 2012 11:36AM
Mugshot of Dominique Henley
Updated: September 1, 2012 6:09AM
They were selling luxury vehicles on craigslist for cents on the dollar.
But the deals for cut-price Cadillacs, Land Rovers, Mercedes and BMWs weren’t all they seemed, authorities say.
“If it looks to good to be true, nine times out of ten, it is,” Secretary of State Jesse White said at a press conference Monday to announce the fruits of a joint 11-month investigation that snared 15 alleged car thieves and saw at least another half-dozen alleged co-conspirators charged with drug, gun or driving offenses.
The 15 charged are accused of being part of an auto-theft ring behind the illegal sales of more than 200 stolen vehicles. It was uncovered in a joint sting by the State Police, Secretary of State police and the Cook County and DuPage County state’s attorneys.
Based in the south suburbs of Markham, Harvey, Calumet City, South Holland and Lansing, the ring ran a variety of scams in Cook, Lake, DuPage and Will counties to steal $4 million worth of cars, investigators say.
In some cases, ring members would pose as vehicle transporters, collecting used lease vehicles from dealers using fraudulent paperwork then hauling away as many as eight vehicles at a time on semi-tractor trailer rigs, Secretary of State investigator Elmer Garza said.
In others, they’d simply use a stolen social security number to buy cars on credit, he added.
Once they had the cars, they’d replace the vehicle identification number tags with VINs copied from Canadian vehicles of the same make and model, then submit phony out-of-state registrations at currency exchanges to obtain a new Illinois title, Garza said.
Cars worth $50,000 were then sold for as little as $10,000 cash.
The scheme unraveled when the Secretary of State’s office noticed the poor quality paper used in the fake titles.
Last week one of the ringleaders, Dominique Henley, was convicted of aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle, theft by deception, identity theft and forgery. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
His father, James, was also convicted and sentenced to 30 months, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said. But most of the accused — including Dominique Henley’s brother Johnathan — are still awaiting trial.
State Police director Hiram Grau said the investigation was ongoing and was leading police towards “gangs, drugs and guns.”
And White urged car buyers to exercise caution and to check that dealers are licensed by the state before purchasing a vehicle.
Most of the stolen vehicles were likely purchased by other criminals who knew they were stolen, State Police Sgt. Tim Gainer said, describing the efforts the thieves took to clean the stolen vehicles’ history as “sophisticated.”
Many of the stolen cars have yet to be recovered, but where the vehicles have been recovered, the buyers in many cases were not covered by their insurance, Gainer said, adding that it was likely similar scams are still being carried out in the Chicago area.