A 2008 Cadillac Escalade was just one of the vehicles stolen from a dealership. The Escalade, which would typically sell for more than $40,000 on the used car market, was sold for $10,000.
"Some would walk onto the lot and take one car. Another would take a flat bed and take away three, and there's at least one instance when someone showed up with a car hauler and took eight," said Sgt. Tim Grainer, Illinois State Police Auto Theft Unit.
State police said the thieves would create a fake vehicle identification number, then sell the cars on the street to those who wanted to resell for their own gain. The thieves would also list the cars on Craigslist.com and sell to innocent citizens who thought they were getting a good deal.
"Basically they'd create labels on their computer, fraudulent VIN tags which they'd place over the true VIN tags and disguise the identity," said Officer Elmer Garza, Illinois Secretary of State Police.
"If it looks like the deal is too good to be true, nine times out of 10 it is," said Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State.
Although the announcement came on Monday, cracking the auto theft ring took state investigators more than a year.
State investigators said they were tracking the missing vehicles when a Secretary of State worker noticed some car titles looked counterfeit.
The criminal cases are ongoing. Among the 21 arrested is Dominique Henley, who has already been sentenced to eight years in prison for identity theft. Henley's family member received 30 months of probation for his role in "Operation Baseball Diamond" or "OBD." It is an acronym for On Board Diagnostics, which is the internal computer that holds a vehicle's real identity.
"These cases, although property crimes, have a tremendous impact on our community," said Bob Berlin, DuPage County State's Attorney.