DOWNTOWN — "Gone in 60 Seconds" has nothing on these guys.
Investigators busted 33 people in a massive Brooklyn- and Queens-based motorcycle theft ring believed to be responsible for more than half of all bike thefts in the city last year — making off with some of the rides in mere seconds, officials said.
Crews from the ring would canvas neighborhoods around the Big Apple hunting for Kawasaki, Ducati, Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda motorcycles.
Then they would come back in the middle of the night in stolen vans, picking the bikes up off the street and putting them in the back of the vehicles. The ring also sold guns, some purchased or stolen from southern states.
"These criminals had a magic act," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a Thursday press conference at police headquarters. "They would make motorcycles disappear and guns appear on the streets of our city."
The ring — with suspects from Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island with nicknames like "Moron," "Jersey Dred" and "Jackie Legs" — allegedly stole at least 63 motorcycles during the past 17 months worth close to $500,000.
Middlemen would then ship the stolen bikes — which were dismantled and placed in shipping containers labeled as "household goods" — to countries in the Caribbean and Senegal in Africa, according to Kelly.
The 17-month investigation, which was a joint operation between the Manhattan District Attorney's office and the NYPD, started after a bike was reported stolen in Lower Manhattan.
"This case began as an investigation into a single Yamaha motorcycle stolen from TriBeCa last spring," Kelly said, "but detectives soon learned that the theft was connected to an organized and opportunistic network of criminals whose operations were not limited to Manhattan, but included Brooklyn and Queens and extended into the South...to buy guns."
The investigation included undercover purchases, visual surveillance and electronic eavesdropping, according to authorities.
Five of the suspects, including Tiwane Paul, 30, are also charged with insurance fraud.
They would buy luxury cars from owners, which would then be sold overseas while the cars were reported stolen.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said the scam caused New York drivers to pay higher insurance fees.
"As vehicle theft and insurance scams force New Yorkers to pay higher insurance rates than drivers in almost any other state, we are targeting the thieves and scam artists," Vance said.
The ring was well organized, sometimes photographing unmarked police cars in neighborhoods where they stole bikes.
They would then dispatch a "blocker car," Kelly added, which would divert the attention of police by driving erratically if officers were seen near where a motorcycle was being stolen.
One of the accused men, Selwyn Mills, 22, even used his grandmother as a lookout in their Brooklyn apartment building.
The grandmother was not arrested, according to Kelly.
"Four crews operating out of Queens and Brooklyn sold to order dozens of motorcycles…lifted, literally from the streets of the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Greenwich Village, the East Village, TriBeCa, as well as Park Slope in Brooklyn and Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick," Kelly said.
In April, Deputy Inspector Edward Winski, of the 1st Precinct, warned that five motorcycles had been stolen during the past month, including two Ducatis and three high-end Japanese racing bikes using the same MO as the ring members.
"It's a very difficult crime to fight," Winski said. "It takes about 4 seconds."
According to Winski, Lower Manhattan was targeted in part because of its abundance of bridges and tunnels, which serve as escape routes.
Apart from the bikes, undercover officers bought 15 guns from ring members in Harlem, including three semi-automatic rifles, a semi-automatic pistol and 11 handguns.
Some of the motorcycles were sold domestically. Undercover police were charged on average about $2,000 for bikes worth at least $7,000.
In addition to the bikes some of the men also bought electronics like iPads and iPods using stolen credit card numbers.
Members of ring face charges including criminal enterprise, criminal sale of firearms, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.
Paul, according to Kelly, told one of his associates, "All I care about is money. Money is what drives everything in this world."
Additional reporting by Julie Shapiro