06/07/2012 06:57 EDT | Updated 08/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Operation Lock: Longueuil, Quebec Car Theft Ring Smashed, 13 Arrested

Rachel Dickinson

LONGUEUIL, Que. - A two-year investigation into a sophisticated car-theft ring that shipped vehicles to Europe and Africa has been cracked by Longueuil police, resulting in a total of 13 arrests.

Operation Lock focused on the theft of 300 cars from streets and shopping mall parking lots in the area.

The ring used computer technology and key-making devices right on the scene that put them well above a simple hotwiring of the engine.

"They had sophisticated equipment to penetrate into a vehicle without leaving any trace," said Lt-Det. Palmerino Troilo of the Longueuil police.

"Once they did get into this vehicle, they were able to lock into the central computer system of the vehicle and go get the necessary information to either program the remote to start the car or to program the encoded key. Once that was done, they would drop back, get into their getaway vehicle, finish up the key and then basically steal the vehicles."

The stolen cars included vehicles owned by people from different parts of Quebec such as Montreal and Quebec City as well as from Toronto.

Sport utility vehicles were a main target, with each vehicle valued in the range of $30,000. Capt. Daniel Blais of the Longueuil police estimated the total value of the stolen cars was around $9 million.

Police arrested two of the suspects last week and charged them with vehicle theft, receiving stolen goods, and conspiracy.

About 100 cars were recovered but police figure the rest were shipped to Europe and Africa through the Port of Montreal.

Police said they seized various devices allowing thieves to program the controllers for vehicles with keyless access systems or to download data from so-called smart keys so they could make a copy.

"It's high-tech," said Blais. "The tools used by members of the gang are not given to regular people, you can't order them. It's usually specialized garages and locksmiths that have access to this."

There were more than 1,500 vehicle thefts in the Longueuil area in 2009, a figure that dropped to 1,100 in 2011.