RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces New Action to Combat Spike in Car Thefts, Carjacking

National Auto Theft Task Force to coordinate federal, state, local law enforcement efforts. Boosting port security and inspections to combat interstate and international criminal rings.

 

Above: Gottheimer joining with local law enforcement and car theft victims to call for a National Auto Theft Task Force.

ALLENDALE, NJ — Today, July 12, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced federal action to combat the spike in car thefts and violent carjacking in North Jersey, the tristate area, and nationwide. 

Nationally, auto thefts increased 16.5% in 2021. In New Jersey, there were more than 14,000 vehicles reported stolen in 2021 — a 22% increase from 2020. As of May this year, there was a 37% increase in auto thefts in New Jersey compared to May of last year. 

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that, as of 2020, thousands of vehicles were stolen or carjacked across the tristate area to be illegally exported to Africa from the U.S. through terminals located in and around the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Federal action Gottheimer is pushing for includes:

  • A National Auto Theft Task Force — led by the Administration to coordinate federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts focused on combating interstate and international carjacking and auto theft. 
  • Immediately increasing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) security at ports — utilizing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other DHS agencies to strengthen law enforcement presence and improve inspections at ports to intercept more stolen cars before they are loaded into containers and shipped overseas.
  • Tracking proceeds of stolen vehicles to take down interstate & international criminal rings — led by the Treasury and Justice Departments, along with the FBI, to track the proceeds of stolen vehicles when they land overseas, to examine if funds are financing drug trafficking, gangs, or terrorism, and to target heads of the car theft rings.
  • Increasing prosecution by the United States Attorney's Office of car theft and carjacking crimes — to further crack down on interstate and international car theft rings.
  • Congressional hearing from the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security — to examine the role of DHS in responding to and investigating car theft at ports.
  • Congressional hearing from the House Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, International Development and Monetary Policy — to examine the possible national security impacts of interstate and international car theft rings, and their use of the proceeds from car thefts.

“Every other week, we read about yet another carjacking or stolen car literally taken out of someone’s driveway as they slept or, brazenly, in broad daylight. Then, these cars are chopped up for parts or they pull into the Port of Newark where they are put into a container, then on a ship, and sent overseas,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Our local police chiefs have asked that we do everything we can at the federal level, as they put it, to cut off the head of the snake — and the head of the snake is at the ports.”

Gottheimer continued, “We can’t just let criminals steal cars and drive them right out of the country. We need to crack down and cut the engine on carjacking and car theft.”

Joining Gottheimer today outside the Allendale Police Station were Allendale Police Chief Mike Dillon, Upper Saddle River Police Chief Patrick Rotella, Westwood Police Chief Michael Pontillo, Ho-Ho-Kus Police Chief Mike LaCroix, local Bergen County car theft victim Matthew Mazon, Bergen County Commissioner Germaine Ortiz, Allendale Council President Amy Wilczynski, and local law enforcement.

Watch the announcement here.

Below: Gottheimer joined by (left to right) Westwood Police Chief Michael Pontillo, Upper Saddle River Police Chief Patrick Rotella, Bergen County Commissioner Germaine Ortiz, and local car theft victim Matthew Mazon.

 

Below: Gottheimer joined by Bergen County Commissioner Germaine Ortiz (left) and Allendale Police Chief Mike Dillon (right).

 


Below: Gottheimer with local Bergen County police departments.

 


 

Below: Gottheimer with Allendale Police Chief Mike Dillon (right) and Allendale Council President Amy Wilczynski (left).

 

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

We’re here today to talk about a very serious issue that’s affecting the safety and well-being of families in our communities across the Fifth District, North Jersey, and the tri-state area. Over the last couple years, it feels like it’s every other week that we read about yet another carjacking or stolen car literally taken out of someone’s driveway as they slept or, brazenly, in broad daylight. Within minutes, these cars are chopped up for parts or they pull into the Port of Newark where they are put in a container, then on a ship, and sent overseas. They are also, in many cases, driven to other locations in the tri-state where they wait a couple days — in Matt’s case, they were gone for two days — then came back around and into Newark.

And I haven’t just read about this growing issue in the news. I’ve increasingly heard directly from law enforcement, including just last week from a group of police chiefs in my District who briefed me on the surge of stolen vehicles here in Bergen County. That group included Chief Dillon and other chiefs that are here. I thought what the Chief had to say was so important that I wanted to go to his station, so everyone could hear what I did, which is just how serious this issue is. I know all the chiefs feel the same way. 

I’m also calling on the U.S. Attorney’s office from a federal perspective to start treating and increasing their prosecution of these crimes. And I want to thank the chiefs for making that recommendation as well. 

Believe it or not, nationwide auto thefts were up 16.5 percent in 2021. Last year, here in New Jersey, there were more than 14,000 vehicles reported stolen — a shockingly 22 percent increase compared to 2020. And the 2020 numbers were already up from the year before. Year after year, these crimes continue to grow. And, as of May this year, there was a 37 percent increase in auto thefts compared to May of last year. Yes, 37 percent. That’s unacceptable. And, as we heard from Mr. Mazon, they are literally stealing cars out of our neighborhood driveways in broad daylight.

This is not just a local crime issue — it’s a national and international issue with multistate and global crime rings. It’s a national homeland security concern requiring the involvement of federal law enforcement, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, specifically U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (or CBP).  We can’t just let criminals steal cars and drive them right out of the country. We need to crack down and cut the engine on carjacking and car theft.

That’s why today I’m calling on the Administration to create a National Auto Theft Task Force to coordinate between federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts focused on combating interstate and international carjacking and auto theft. I’m also calling on the Department of Homeland Security to immediately beef up security at our ports, so that we can intercept more stolen cars before they get loaded into containers and shipped overseas.

As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, I’ve also requested that the Committee to hold immediate congressional hearings on the role of DHS in responding to and investigating car theft at the ports. And I’m asking the Treasury and Justice Departments, and the FBI, to track the proceeds of these stolen vehicles when they land overseas. Are those stolen cars financing drugs, gangs, or terrorists? We need to know. I’ve also requested that the Chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, International Development and Monetary Policy, of which I’m a member, hold an urgent hearing.

As New Jersey’s Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin recently put it: car thefts are not an urban problem or a suburban problem in our state. They are a statewide problem, and it’s driving violent crime. And he’s right. These stolen vehicles aren’t just being sold off at the port. Many of the perpetrators are using the stolen vehicles in violent crimes across the state. As I said, our friends and neighbors are literally being dragged out of their vehicles or having their cars stolen from their driveways.

What happens next is that the stolen car could be used to perpetrate a violent crime, or, in other cases, they are quickly taken to the Port of Newark and shipped overseas completely intact or in pieces.

CBP reported that, as of 2020, thousands of vehicles that were stolen or carjacked across the tristate area were illegally exported to Africa from the United States through various terminals located in and around the Port of New York and New Jersey. Just last year, the Department of Justice charged a New Jersey man as part of a car theft ring, which included vehicles recovered at the Port of Newark.

Now, while many of these reported carjacking crimes are violent, other car thefts are targeting us right at our homes. We’re lucky to live in such safe neighborhoods, but we all know that they are not immune to crime.

The Fort Lee police department recently posted a home security video showing how these criminals operate. A crew pulled up to a victim's house in a suspected stolen car in broad daylight. Three passengers jumped out of the car and pulled on car door handles until they found one unlocked. Then they hopped in and drove away. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I watched the video. It couldn’t have taken more than a minute for them to do all of this. Just this week, I saw a similar video in my town on the Ring Neighbors video sharing app.

And we heard from Mr. Mazon, who was moving boxes in and out of his car in his driveway, and went behind his house to let their new puppy out, only to come back and see his car being driven down his street — with the EZ Pass violations for the stolen car still showing up in his mail this week. These crimes are happening to our family, friends, and neighbors, right at their homes.

In April, robbers armed with guns and knives carjacked an 18-year-old New Milford resident in Teaneck, cutting him before speeding off in his SUV toward New York City.

In March, three men with guns, wearing masks in Bergenfield, robbed and carjacked a 26-year-old man. The lawless thug hit the man in the head with a handgun before stealing his money, jewelry, and car.

A few days after that horrible armed carjacking, another similar crime was reported in the Township of Washington. The carjackers intentionally hit a man’s car forcing him to get out. That’s when two armed robbers with handguns demanded his car keys and wallet, and drove off with his car. But, the chaos didn’t end there. A police chase ensued through towns in our district. The criminal drove 110 miles per hour and blew through tolls at the George Washington Bridge at 1:30am before the stolen car was finally found in New York.

Just last week, in Old Tappan, there were two attempted car thefts and a stolen vehicle in a 15-hour time span. Young children from two different homes came face-to-face with robbers. More and more, these criminals aren’t just looking for cars with the doors unlocked – and, yes, that’s what they do. They see the mirrors open and they know the door is unlocked with a key in the car. People need to lock their car doors. Now, they are also opening the garage door and breaking into side doors looking for a set of keys. As a father, I can’t imagine the fear and trauma these families must be dealing with. These crimes can also have devastating impacts on families.

Last month in Paramus, right off of Oradell Avenue, a thief entered a house at night, took the keys, and drove off with the homeowner's car — the third time in the past several months in Paramus that a burglar has gone into a home to steal car keys.

In 2015, New Jersey created an auto theft task force including representatives of the state's Division of Criminal Justice and several local police departments.

It’s great that Jersey has this task force, and our local police are working hard to keep our communities safe. But, we also need federal level resources and attention to put an end to these reckless and often violent crimes that aren’t just occurring in Jersey, but across the country. These are interstate and international criminal rings. They require federal intervention to support state and local law enforcement, not only in our towns to protect our communities and families, but also at the Ports where they are shipped out.

Our local police chiefs have asked that we do everything we can at the federal level, as they put it, to cut off the head of the snake. And the head of the snake is at the ports.

Some work is already taking place to combat this — in fact, year-to-date, CBP and Homeland Security Investigations reported 95 vehicle recoveries at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Twenty-nine were reported stolen from NYPD jurisdictions, two cars from Port Authority Police, and many others were from out of the tri-state area. But that’s just a start.  We need to be doing more, with more resources, to boost coordination between our ports and at every level of law enforcement — from local, to state, to federal – to bust these car theft rings.

Because if you can get to the head of the car theft ring and their ability to make money by selling and shipping these vehicles overseas, then we can help cut off the incentives for people to steal the cars in the first place, and cut off the head of the snake. It’s the difference between getting the guy who is selling the drugs on the street corner and the big boss who is making all of the money at the top of the pyramid. We need federal law enforcement to get to work with state and local efforts to take out the mastermind criminal at the top of the car theft pyramid and help put an end to international vehicle trafficking. That’s where the National Auto Theft Task Force will play a key role.

In the coming days, I will be sending a letter to the President and the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice, and the Director of the FBI, urging them to take immediate federal action on this issue putting our families in danger and threatening the safety of our communities across the country. It is critical that we establish a federal task force to support the great work of our state and local law enforcement efforts.

We’ve seen the success from Jersey’s state level task force, but imagine how effective our fight against car theft would be if every level of government worked together and had the ability to utilize the extensive resources available to the federal government. This whole-of-government approach and cooperation would provide valuable crime fighting information to our hardworking state and local law enforcement.

As part of this effort, we must immediately increase the presence of law enforcement at our nation’s ports, including at the Port of New York and New Jersey where thousands of stolen cars have been illegally exported overseas from the U.S.

Customs and Border Protection and other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security must strengthen law enforcement presence and improve inspections at our ports. And the Treasury and Justice Department need to look at the international illicit financing angle of these crimes – so we follow the money to help cut off the head of the snake, whether that’s in our country or overseas.

I’ve already discussed the creation of a National Auto Theft Task Force with DHS, and I’ll continue to work closely with the Secretary, especially to combat illegal exports of stolen vehicles overseas.

Also, to deal with the surge in car theft and the broader surge in crime, it’s absolutely vital that we invest in our law enforcement to give them the tools they need to protect our communities. We must also enforce the laws already on the books, so that violent criminals are not released back into our communities to repeatedly victimize additional families.

I’m fighting in Congress to continue to make critical investments in our local police forces.

As we are seeing a rise in crime across the country, it’s critical that we take steps to invest — not defund — our law enforcement, so we can help keep communities and officers safe.

That is why I introduced a new bipartisan, bicameral bill this year, the Invest to Protect Act — to make critical, targeted investments in local police departments.

It recently passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and can now be considered by the full Senate. In the House, we have 80 cosponsors, including 25 Republicans and 55 Democrats.

Helping to ensure that police officers in smaller towns across Northern New Jersey and nationwide have the resources and training they need to keep themselves and families across our communities safe has been a top priority that I will continue to fight for.

The only way to make departments better and our communities safer is to invest wisely, in training and tools, in recruiting and retaining the best talent, and ensuring they can be involved in the community. That’s how you keep families safe.

In short, when it comes to law enforcement, lowering crime rates across the country, and combating car thefts, you need to invest to protect.

Overall, we need to be doing everything we can to make our communities safe, including working together to combat these violent carjackings and car thefts right out of our driveways. The federal government must support the efforts of our brave law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.

By working together at all levels, I know here, in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us. Thank you, God bless our troops, and may God continue to bless and watch over the United States of America.

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