Detroit-based crime ring stands accused of renting cars in the United States, driving them to Canada, reporting them stolen and shipping them to Iraq.
DETROIT — For nearly two years, the federal government was hot on the trail of a Detroit-based crime ring accused of renting cars in the United States, driving them to Canada, reporting them stolen and shipping them to Iraq.
The scheme — unraveled in an investigation dubbed Operation Hot Wheels — came to a screeching halt this week when federal agents arrested 13 suspects, 10 from the Detroit area and three from California.
According to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday, the international rental-car scam involved luxury sedans and SUVs valued at from $25,000 to more than $60,000. The defendants legitimately rented the vehicles — including Dodge Journeys, Toyota Avalons, a Chevy Tahoe and an Infiniti — from national rental agencies in Michigan, Ohio and California, the indictment said.
The suspects drove the vehicles to Canada and reported them stolen or carjacked in Detroit, when the vehicles were headed to Iraq, the indictment said. In five cases, the vehicles turned up in shipping containers at the Port of Montreal, headed for Iraq via Turkey, the indictment said.
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Some vehicles made it to Iraq, but authorities did not disclose how many. They also didn’t say how many vehicles were involved or the estimated losses.
Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, said the suspects left behind a “lengthy paper trail” that helped investigators expose the scheme.
According to the indictment, the mastermind was Adnan Hana, 57, of Sterling Heights, Mich. Export documents accompanying the vehicles in Montreal identified the exporter as Discount Auto Sales in Detroit, which is owned by Hana, the indictment said.
Hana is free on bond and is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. In one case, the indictment said, Jason Hana, 27, rented a 2009 Dodge Journey from Enterprise in Sterling Heights on July 9, 2008. The next day, at 11:47 a.m., Adnan Hana drove the Journey into Canada via the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. One minute later, Jason Hana entered Canada via the tunnel in a separate car with a Michigan license plate, the indictment said. That vehicle returned to Detroit at 10:33 p.m. that day with Jason Hana and Adnan Hana inside, but the rental never returned from Canada.
Jason Hana later filed a report with Detroit police claiming the Journey was stolen at roughly 7 p.m. July 28, the indictment said.
The defendants face charges that include transportation of stolen property in interstate and international commerce and related conspiracy charges.