LILLINGTON, N.C. (WNCN) — What police say was a nationwide ring of interconnected auto dealership thefts, has been broken with the help of a local police detective in Lillington.
The Hiester Dodge/Jeep/Chrysler automotive dealership in Lillington sells a lot of high-end cars like Hellcat Redeye Dodge Challengers, Corvettes, and Ram trucks.
When a group of thieves hit the place last December, it led police to what they say was a massive auto theft conspiracy.
The Hiester dealership in Lillington was just one of many that were targeted.
“They’ve been hitting a bunch of people like Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Charlotte, and other places,” said Hiester General Manager Rob Kirkland.
When the thieves targeted the Lillington dealer last December, they did more than show up on surveillance video stealing a dozen cars, they made the mistake of getting caught in two of the vehicles hours after the heist.
That eventually led to the uncovering of what police say were a half dozen organized theft rings.
“We were able to follow up on some leads and ended up tracking them back to Charlotte,” said Sgt. Stephen Gardner of the Lillington Police Department.
After months of investigation, police found out it went deeper than that.
“It turned out to be six or seven different rings responsible for a lot of auto thefts that’s all over the East Coast,” said Gardner.
He said the rings operated as far north as New York and as far south as Florida.
Close to $1 million in vehicles alone were taken from the Lillington dealership last December.
“We definitely have heightened security,” said Kirkland. “We even have a security guard here that stays in the evening hours.”
Police discovered why the dealership was targeted.
“They shopped online, they really did,” said Gardner. “We were able to find out through cell phones and interviews with the arrestees that we’ve talked do they knew what was here and they came here.”
Owner John Hiester told Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia he turned that negative into a positive in a recent TV commercial.
The commercial uses some of the surveillance video as Hiester says, “People ask me every day why did a criminal group from Charlotte come to Lillington to steal cars?”
Hiester says it was because the dealership has the largest selection of vehicles the thieves were looking for and explains with that kind of selection a customer can find what they need too.
“When you are given lemons,” he said, “make lemonade.”
So far, 10 suspects have been arrested and they face a slew of charges.
“Each of these gentlemen are holding 50 charges right now just from this heist alone,” said Gardner.
Because the accused have crossed state lines, that means the FBI is involved and that means additional federal charges.
This is still an active investigation and police say more suspects are being sought.