The men who carjacked Dunkley on March 17 were professional thieves, members of a sophisticated transatlantic car theft ring, police said. The plan -- thwarted by Prince George’s County detectives who arrested two men they say are key players in the ring -- was to ship her 2009 silver Toyota thousands of miles to Lagos, Nigeria, authorities said.
While most cars are swiped for joy rides or cash from selling parts, authorities say the ring and others like it make up a complex, multimillion-dollar network.
Prince George’s police officials lauded the arrests of the ring’s high-ranking members. But they and other law enforcement authorities across the region acknowledged that the international car thieves are difficult to catch and the problem has become almost unsolvable.
“These guys are going to be replaced,” said Prince George’s Sgt. David Mohr, who works on the auto theft team.
Officials estimate that each year in the Washington area alone, hundreds of cars are stolen and shipped overseas. New York authorities announced last June that they had charged 17 people with stealing and shipping hundreds of luxury cars. Other D.C. area police officials and a spokesman for the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office said their detectives have worked similar cases.
Solomon Asare and Gabriel Awuzie, accused of being key players in the ring that stole Dunkley’s car, were arrested April 14 on car theft charges. Awuzie is scheduled to appear in court in May, and Asare in June.
“This has gone on and on and on, and it has become such an enterprise for them in the U.S.,” said Prince George’s County auto theft detective Luis Aponte. “There’s a major market for this.”
The ring’s bosses are usually based in African countries or other developing nations, where it is more difficult to find reasonably priced, mid- to high-end vehicles, authorities said. They order specific cars from middlemen in the United States, and then low-level thieves set out to get their cut.
In the Prince George’s ring, the thieves are paid according to the vehicles they carjack or steal — $1,500 for a Toyota Camry, $2,500 for a RAV4, $5,000 for a Porsche Cayenne, Aponte said. The middlemen handle the rest. They stash the stolen cars in parking lots or neighborhoods, waiting to see whether police are on their trail. Then they load the vehicles onto shipping containers bound for Africa, police said. The rings are especially prevalent in the D.C. area, police said, because of its proximity to ports.
Police say that in tracking Dunkley’s car, they were able to reach into one ring’s upper ranks.