MACEDON Ranges Shire and City of Whittlesea residents are among a group arrested in connection with a vehicle rebirthing operation linked to an organised crime syndicate.
Detectives from the Vehicle Crime Squad arrested 18 people and seized more than 70 vehicles as part of a nine-month investigation into the operation.
Among those arrested were a 33-year-old Lancefield man on June 19, a 36-year-old Romsey woman and 61-year-old Lancefield woman on July 7, and a 33-year-old Doreen man and 30-year-old Thomastown woman on September 4.
The 33-year-old Lancefield man faced court yesterday charged with 21 offences related to theft and handling stolen goods.
The 36-year-old Romsey woman and 61-year-old Lancefield woman were bailed and are each set to face Kyneton Magistrates’ Court on October 12, charged with handling stolen goods, criminal damage by fire and, in the case of the Romsey woman, possessing proceeds of crime.
The Thomastown woman was remanded in custody and will face Heidelberg Magistrates’ court on October 13 charged with eight offences related to trafficking methylamphetamines, cultivating cannabis and handling stolen goods.
The Doreen man was charged with possessing drugs of dependence and handling stolen goods, and was bailed to appear at Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court on January 18.
Vehicle rebirthing is the practice of transferring identifying parts of a wrecked car onto a stolen car of the same make and model, allowing the stolen car to be sold with the identity of the wrecked car.
Police allege the syndicate operated in the outer northern and western suburbs of Melbourne, with stolen vehicles and machinery being taken to rural areas to be dismantled, rebirthed and sold for profit.
The investigation commenced after police received information about possible criminal activity at a property, which led to further properties and suspects involved in the syndicate being identified.
Police allege the syndicate supplied vehicles to other criminal groups and offenders, with many of the seized vehicles subsequently linked to other incidents such as pursuits.
Between May and September, detectives executed 32 warrants across residential, rural and business properties, seizing 53 motor vehicles, 18 motorcycles, 27 trailers, 19 vehicle engines, five high-end bicycles, three earth-moving machines, a tow truck, and a boat.
The seized vehicle makes included Porsche, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Volkswagen, Subaru, Mini, Mitsubishi, Holden, Nissan, Ford, Kawasaki, KTM, Yamaha and Harley-Davidson.
While executing the warrants, police also seized four high-powered firearms and ammunition, cash, drugs including methylamphetamines, cannabis, GHB and cocaine, and hundreds of stolen power tools and auto parts.
In total, more than 800 items of property valued at more than $2.5 million were seized by investigators.
Detective Superintendent Peter Brigham, who oversees the Crime Command’s state anti-gang division, said the arrests were the culmination of months of committed investigation by the Vehicle Crime Squad.
“The arrest of 18 people over the course of the investigation and the seizure of the significant number of vehicles, equipment, firearms, cash and drugs is an enormous win,” he said.
“Vehicle theft has an incredibly detrimental impact on the community in a variety of ways, including the use of the stolen vehicles in the commission of other serious crimes and allowing offenders to move around more easily.
“We also have victims who are now without a car that might be essential to their ability to work or look after their families.
“Some of these victims were not insured and this has caused significant hardship to these people, not to mention the rebirthed vehicles being a major safety threat to the unwitting buyers.
“This syndicate had no regard for the safety of the community and this is further evidenced by the firearms seizures linked to this investigation.”
Det Supt Brigham also said the community played a key role in providing information to police about suspicious activity linked to the theft and rebirthing of vehicles.
“Profit-motivated vehicle theft remains a significant issue for police in Victoria,” he said.
“We are seeing criminal syndicates that are contributing to high numbers of unrecovered stolen cars, which are then laundered as recycled separated parts, as well as whole or partial vehicles.
“Victoria Police works closely with a range of law enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies to try and combat this issue, however a lot of investigations are started by members of the public reporting information to police.
“We encourage anyone with information about the theft, rebirthing and subsequent sale of vehicles to contact police.”