|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a South Amboy man pleaded guilty today to a first-degree charge of promoting organized street crime by supervising a ring that stole over 100 vehicles worth a total of more than $550,000.
Jose D. Lopez, 33, aka “Cholo,” of South Amboy, pleaded guilty to first-degree promotion of organized street crime before Superior Court Judge Dennis V. Nieves in Middlesex County. The charge was contained in a criminal accusation filed by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. Also today, Lopez pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree leader of auto theft trafficking network, second-degree operation of a facility for the sale of stolen automobiles, and third-degree conspiracy. Those charges were contained in a Middlesex County grand jury indictment filed by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office in February 2012.
Judge Nieves scheduled sentencing for Sept. 16. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Lopez be sentenced to 15 years in state prison with five years of parole ineligibility.
“This ring stole not only the vehicles, but in many cases the livelihoods of hard-working New Jersey contractors, plumbers, electricians and painters who needed their vans and tools to earn a living. We stand committed to detect and punish those who commit such crimes,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman.
“These rings victimize not only the owners of the stolen cars, but all New Jerseyans who pay car insurance, by increasing the premiums all of us pay for car insurance.” said Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Ronald Chillemi. “The Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor recently launched a multi-media campaign reminding criminals that insurance fraud leads to prison. This defendant spending at least the next five years behind bars is a stark warning to those who would consider such crimes. ”
Middlesex County Acting Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said the plea agreement and the significant incarceration that the defendant faces should serve as a warning to those who are considering auto theft.
“In addition to the inconvenience, financial hardship and sense of violation suffered by the specific victims, auto thefts cause all honest, hard-working citizens to ultimately pay for these crimes through higher insurance premiums. For these reasons these offenses are taken very seriously, and are actively pursued, through coordination between the Attorney General’s Office and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office,’’ Acting Prosecutor Carey said.
In pleading guilty to the charge brought by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, Lopez admitted that between June 2012 and June 2013, he promoted organized street crime by conspiring to steal 104 vehicles in Middlesex County, including multiple Honda passenger vehicles, Ford contractor vans, one trailer, one Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle, and other vehicles. A joint investigation by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, the Woodbridge Police Department and the Perth Amboy Police Department determined that Lopez arranged for the Honda vehicles to be stripped of their parts so the parts could be sold, and he arranged for the contents of the vans, primarily industrial contractors’ tools, to be sold. The investigation further revealed that Lopez arranged for many of the vehicles to be scrapped at nearby scrapyards and that, since many of the scrapyards would not accept vehicles without an accompanying vehicle title, Lopez had nearly 100 vehicle titles forged by copying legitimate titles and altering the vehicle identification numbers using a digital scanner and a typewriter, so as to match the corresponding numbers on the scrapped vehicles.
Lopez was arrested on June 14, when investigators obtained written consent to search Lopez’s apartment. The search resulted in the state seizing the typewriter used to assist in the forging of New Jersey vehicle titles, a digital scanner with a “blank” New Jersey vehicle title sitting on the “bed” of the scanner, dozens of New Jersey vehicle titles in various states of alteration/completion, receipts for scrapping stolen vehicles, numerous vehicle ignition systems, vehicle identification number (VIN) plates, stolen contractors’ tools from stolen vehicles (including tools that can be used to remove VIN plates), multiple cell phones, multiple personal vehicle GPS units, multiple laptop computers, and other miscellaneous items indicative of an organized street crime operation.
In pleading guilty to the Middlesex County charges, Lopez admitted that between 2010 and 2011, he organized an auto theft network to steal Honda passenger vehicles, install fraudulent VIN plates and license plates on the vehicles, and then sell the “re-tagged” stolen automobiles to unsuspecting buyers. Under the plea agreement, Lopez’s sentence for these charges will run concurrent to the prison sentence he will serve for the state’s charges.
Sgt. Jarek Pyrzanowski, Detective Doug Mattei and Deputy Attorney General T.J. Harker coordinated the investigation for the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. Detectives Wendy Berg and Jon Berman and Analysts Kelly Celenza and Dalisha Carmichael, all from the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, also assisted in the investigation. Additional investigative assistance was provided by Sgt. Patrick Kendig and Detective Joseph Joseph Saiia of the Division of Criminal Justice’s Electronic Surveillance Unit as well as the New Jersey State Police Electronic Surveillance Unit. Assistant Prosecutor Douglas Herring handled the matter for the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Chillemi thanked the following individuals for their assistance in the investigation: Detective Sgt. Joseph Breyta and Detectives Ralph Pineiro, Marcos Valera, Carlos Rodriguez, Jessica Dejesus, and Davis Salazar from the Perth Amboy Police Department, as well as Detectives Santiago Tapia and Andrew Kondracki from the Woodbridge Police Department.