NEW YORK – A ring of bandits made high-end motorcycles suddenly disappear -- and illegal guns appear -- on New York City streets in a lucrative smuggling scheme, authorities said Thursday.
The ring dispatched "steal teams" in stolen minivans -- their backseats removed -- to comb upscale neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights for Ducatis, Hondas and other bikes of choice, authorities said. Then they would stop alongside parked bikes, slide open the van door and lift them inside before driving off.
"In most instances, this took no more than 30 seconds," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a news conference where he and District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced enterprise corruption and other charges against 33 people.
The investigation stemmed from a report last year of a Yamaha stolen in Tribeca. Over the next several months, police learned that the defendants had swiped more than 60 motorcycles worth about $500,000.
"The streets served as outdoor showrooms where crews would go shopping," Kelly said.
Black market dealers would pay about $2,000 for each stolen bike before having them dismantled, wrapped in plastic and shipped for resale in Caribbean and African nations and elsewhere under labels reading "household goods."
The ring also diversified "like any good business" by dealing illegal guns in Harlem, Vance said.
Prosecutors allege that during the probe, an undercover detective bought 15 weapons -- most believed smuggled from southern states -- from the ring. The cache included three semiautomatic assault rifles.
Investigators also learned that the bandits tried to escape detection with counter-surveillance -- identifying unmarked police vehicles and taking photos of them.