Law enforcers revealed on Monday that they're battling one of the most sophisticated auto theft rings they've ever seen, one that's stolen millions of dollars.
In one case, they said, thieves armed with inside knowledge drove a big car-hauling rig into a local dealership. They loaded it with eight luxury vehicles, then drove away to sell them for as little as 20 percent of their real worth.
This Cadillac Escalade was Exhibit A today for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and his investigators. It's one of about 200 vehicles worth more than $4 million that were stolen from dealers and then resold at huge discounts through shady and not-so-shady outlets.
"They put 'em up, Craig's List, newspapers, word on the street, any way they could get rid of a car. They would wash titles, retag stolen cars two or three times. It was relatively elaborate," Tim Gainer, NE IL Metro Auto Theft Task Force.
After police officers in Cook, Will, DuPage and Lake Counties had begun investigating; they got an unexpected boost from bureaucrats. The ring was washing its forged vehicle titles through currency exchanges. But they eventually ended up in the Secretary of State's office, where workers spotted a characteristic pattern.
"By using those characteristics, we were able to run some computer queries and identify a variety of vehicles that seemed to fall into that category," Ernie Dannenberger, Director, Vehicle Services Bureau said.
The combined effort has so far led to 21 arrests. Already convicted: Dominique Henley, sentenced to 8 years in prison, and his father, James Henley, sentenced to 30 months probation.
As for their buyers, who paid as little as $10,000 for cars worth $50,000 or more, Officials said a majority were criminals themselves. Perhaps only 20 percent were innocent victims.
"If it looks like the deal is too good to be true, nine times out ten it is," Secretary of State, Jesse White, said.