Confronting the rampant theft of luxury cars left unlocked and with their key fobs inside, a frustrated Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said: “People are literally putting a sign on their car saying, ‘Take me.’”
It’s a crime pattern hitting the East End, and it’s not new. Reports of the theft of unlocked luxury cars from East End driveways date back to 2014 and, like the influx of tourists and second homeowners, have become an annual occurrence.
Southampton Town Police reported 12 cars stolen in their jurisdiction since January. Sag Harbor Village had its first and only car theft last week. Southampton Village Police have reported seven stolen cars, and Quogue Village Police have two in their files.
A task force has been created including East End Departments, the Suffolk County Police Department, the State Police, the FBI, and the Motor Vehicle Crimes Unit of the New Jersey State Police. Why New Jersey? Because that’s where police believe the rings boosting the cars hail from, and where they take the cars, most of which are eventually traced to locations in the Garden State.
“There’s a real big ring out of New Jersey,” Detective Sergeant Herman Lamison of the Southampton Village Police Criminal Investigations unit said earlier this month, detailing the thefts in his territory. Six cars were stolen from residents’ driveways in one week. One of them, a 2010 Range Rover parked on Toylsome Place was traced to Newark the same day.
A lot of car owners aren’t as lucky. With the thefts generally occurring between midnight and 4 a.m., hours can go by before they report the thefts.
Still, when they do, Det. Sgt. Lamison explained that most vehicles have GPS trackers on them, and toll booths and every police car in New York State have license plate readers that send out an alert if a stolen car passes by. There are stationary license plate readers in the village, too, but in the case of the early July thefts, the cars had cleared village boundaries before they were reported stolen. Nevertheless, all the cars stolen that week were found in Newark.
Another, taken on July 16, was recovered on July 21 in a parking garage in the Bronx. Members of the ring may have stashed it there for others in the ring to pick up once it appeared the coast was clear. Det. Sgt. Lamison said the thieves can be so bold as to drive massive car carriers out to a location and simply load vehicles on. How the thieves came to Southampton Village could be evidenced in a car left in a Toylsome Place driveway and discovered just days after the theft. Further investigation revealed it had been stolen in New Jersey.
In Quogue, an Audi Q8 stolen on May 6 from a Winnebogue Lane driveway was traced to an apartment complex in Newark. Thieves will park a car, then wait to see whether police are looking for it, Lieutenant Daniel Hartman of the Quogue Village Police informed.
Not every case is still open.
In Sag Harbor last week, the turnaround from theft to arrest was swift. South Orange Police in New Jersey arrested Daniel Amponsah, 28, of Columbus, Ohio on the morning of Wednesday, July 22, and charged him with a felony count of receiving stolen property in connection with the theft of a 2019 black Range Rover Land Rover, which was taken from a Lincoln Street, Sag Harbor driveway on July 20 around 4:54 a.m.
According to the arrest report, Chief Kyle Kroll conducted a random plate check on a black Range Rover parked on East Clark Place in South Orange that matched the description of a vehicle used by individuals checking car door handles in a different neighborhood the day before.
After running the plate, he learned the vehicle was the same Land Rover reported stolen to Sag Harbor Village Police on July 20. A resident of Lincoln Street called Village Police after discovering his vehicle was missing around 7:18 a.m.
Chief Kroll called in backup, with police performing surveillance on the vehicle from a distance, when a white Mercedes Benz with New Jersey registration pulled behind the Range Rover.
According to police, a man wearing all black got into the vehicle with both the Mercedes and Range Rover driving off down East Clark Street. Police positioned themselves on either side of the Range Rover with a detective exiting his vehicle, at which point, police said the white Mercedes took off at a high rate of speed nearly hitting the officer. Police drove their vehicles bumper-to-bumper against the Range Rover, and after asking Mr. Amponsah to exit the vehicle without success, removed him from the SUV without incident, said police.
Police said during a search they located $5,520 in cash in Mr. Amponsah’s wallet. They escorted the Range Rover back to police headquarters.
Chief McGuire said the victim had a smartphone app that showed the car’s last trip, allowing police to track the vehicle. Police went to the location, but the car wasn’t there. The chief said the thieves may have taken the GPS device out of the car and tossed it on the street.
Another case had a somewhat slower, if still successful, turnaround. On June 24, the U.S. Attorney’s office reported the arrests of three New Jersey men for their alleged roles in a conspiracy to steal luxury cars in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut and transport them across state lines.
Malik Baker of Vauxhall, New Jersey, 26, and Hakeem Smith, 29, and Nafique Goodwyn, 26, both of Newark, were charged with conspiring to transport stolen vehicles in interstate commerce. Mr. Baker and Mr. Smith were also charged with one count of conspiring to receive stolen vehicles and one count of receiving a stolen vehicle that had crossed state lines after being stolen, and Mr. Smith was also charged with one count of transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines.
Among the cars officials say they took was a 2019 Mercedes Maybach, stolen from a Quogue driveway on August 29, 2019.
Announcing the charges lodged against the trio, the U.S. Attorney’s office noted the threesome often used stolen cars to steal other cars, which appeared to be the case with the Southampton Village thefts.
The thieves are brazen, said Det. Sgt. Lamison, “They’re young and they just don’t care.”
But people make it easy for them, too. Chief McGuire pointed out that when the late model cars are locked and the fob removed, the side mirrors fold in. Thieves need only look at a car to know it’s ripe for the taking. Ever since manufacturers started making cars with push button starts, car thieves have realized “this is golden,” Chief Skrynecki opined. “They’ve made it so easy.”
“The days of going to sleep in the Hamptons with your cars unlocked and your house unlocked are over,” he said. Town Police shared a home surveillance video that shows one of their dozen thefts. In it, the culprit trots up a long and well-lit driveway, deep into an estate. He jogs past two cars and picks a third, slowly backing it out of the 100-foot long driveway.
Just last week, the chief reported, two cars were stolen from the same driveway. He said at least 25 percent of the cars stolen this year have been recovered. While Range Rovers and Mercedes are the preferred makes of the targeted cars, there’s not one section of Southampton Town where the luxury vehicles have gone missing left completely unscathed.
Since February, thieves took two cars in Tuckahoe, one in Water Mill, and one in Hampton Bays. Three were stolen in Sagaponack on July 11. Bridgehampton is a favored hamlet, with two vehicles, a Mercedes and a Range Rover, taken on June 20, two more Range Rovers taken on July 8, another on July 11 and three more high end rides, two Range Rovers and a 2014 white Porsche 911, stolen on July 22.
Local insurance expert Kevin Luss, president of the Luss Group, said a car is still covered, even if people have left them open, with the key fobs easily accessible. A theft could be covered under a comprehensive policy, with any damage to the vehicle covered under the collision policy, after the deductible is paid. The main problem he sees is if a car is stolen and never recovered, the depreciation lowers the value of the vehicle. Though, he said, the high end vehicles tend to hold their value.
Each insurance company uses its own algorithms to determine rates. In general, Luss said, an area’s cumulative risk — for “lots of local accidents, and a $90,000 Range Rover gone in the night” — can affect premiums for clients across the board. He noted companies might not weigh a theft as much as an “at fault” accident. “We have enough accidents out here, then add two or three years of above average thefts and we get dinged for it, no doubt,” he said.
There were 229,339 vehicle thefts with keys or fobs left in the vehicles between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2018. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, that works out to 209 vehicles every day during that time frame.
Additional reporting by Kathryn Menu