Web, Foreign Buyers Aid Cycle Theft Rings

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An undercover investigation into motorcycle theft rings operating on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border culminated this past week in Southern California with the arrest of eight people and the recovery of 50 stolen motorcycles worth an estimated $326,000.

The investigation, dubbed “Operation Knee Drag,” began several months ago. As reported by the San stolenmotorcyclesDiego Union-Tribune, the operation revealed that many of the stolen motorcycles were being sold in Mexico for $1,500 to $2,000. A task force has since identified more than 100 people, both U.S. and Mexican citizens, who are responsible for the majority of the thefts.

In November, across the country in Trenton, N.J., five Burlington County men were charged with involvement in a motorcycle theft ring that allegedly stole motorcycles, retagged them with new vehicle identification numbers, then sold them.

The three men allegedly conspired to steal six motorcycles and two vans. In some cases, the men would receive the motorcycle from its owner, file a false insurance claim saying the motorcycle had been stolen so that the owner could receive an insurance payment, then change the motorcycle’s VIN and sell it.

While motorcycle theft is a prevalent crime, the re-sale of stolen motorcycles in their entirety is on the decline now that thieves can strip the bikes, alter identifying numbers and use the Internet to sell the items to online purchasers around the world.

In 2007, in Florida, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office arrested 11 people in connection with a massive motorcycle theft ring they say was responsible for the theft of 45 sport bikes worth more than $400,000. The investigation, dubbed “Operation Throttle Down,” found that the motorcycles were taken apart and the pieces were sold.

The crimes took place all over Southwest Florida. Property recovered included a Yamaha R1 reported stolen from Canada and an engine connected with a theft in Boston.

Authorities say the gang would rent a utility van and then cruise parking lots and other areas where sport bikes might be unattended, find a target, then literally pick up the motorcycle, put it in the van and drive off. The whole crime took under 20 seconds.

In 2006, in New York, 23 people were arrested on charges that they were part of a motorcycle theft ring that stole hundreds of high-end Harley-Davidson, Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda from city streets and resold them in Budapest, Hungary. Authorities said the gang stole between 300 and 400 motorcycles a year and made roughly $4 million annually.

Click here to read the AMA’s nine tips for keeping a bike from becoming a theft statistic.

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