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How thieves helped themselves to nearly 100 rental cars in days-long heist

It was a theft that could have cost more than $1 million, but police say it is was unlikely to have involved a sophisticated level of organisation. Rather opportunistically, unlocked rental cars disappeared over the course of days from a south Auckland lot while the entire country was frozen in lockdown.

Nearly 100 Jucy Rentals cars went missing.

Most were unbranded Holden Captivas, Mazda 3s or Suzuki Swifts, not as easily recognisable as the company's distinctive green and purple campervans.

Each was believed to be worth roughly between $10,000 and $30,000 each. If all were valued at the top end the collective value would have been roughly $2.8 million.

Thieves first gained entry to the Māngere yard, near Auckland Airport, through a large hole in the fence.

There are only two entrances to the yard and at some point one gate had been taken off its hinges, which would have allowed car after car out.

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Nearly 100 cars seemingly vanished over the course of days without groups drawing unwanted attention.

Suspicions instead were first raised when frontline police officers were dealing with some motorists who failed to stop for police, sparking one or two small pursuits.

Police discovered these cars belonged to Jucy Rentals - the first hints that something bigger had taken place arising in the middle of the night.

Within hours it was established that much larger numbers of the rentals were missing and police patrols began to increase in the surrounding south Auckland area.

The company issued a statement on April 27 that more than 60 vehicles had been stolen at a time when the "once-thriving business" had been decimated by Covid-19.

Theft targeting any Kiwi business at this time was "particularly callous".

Jucy Rentals chief executive Tim Alpe previously told the Herald he was devastated by the theft, which could not have come at a worse time for the company. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Jucy Rentals chief executive Tim Alpe previously told the Herald he was devastated by the theft, which could not have come at a worse time for the company. Photo / Brett Phibbs

As police seemingly tightened their net more of the stolen vehicles were recovered every day in suburbs including Ōtara, Māngere and Papatoetoe.

Some were found on properties already known to police while others were unearthed on quieter streets.

At one point it was feared as many as 112 vehicles were missing before this was revised to be just under 100.

Police were also notified that another 18 vehicles, belonging to another rental company, were interfered with at the same yard.

A handful of those vehicles were damaged, however, none of that company's vehicles were reported stolen.

At one point is was feared as many as 112 vehicles were missing. Photo / Brett Phibbs
At one point is was feared as many as 112 vehicles were missing. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Today police said 86 of the 97 stolen Jucy Rentals cars had been recovered.

A total of 28 people had been arrested resulting in 17 prosecutions.

Counties Manukau West Area Commander Inspector Matt Srhoj told the Herald police had made "great progress" recovering the "vast majority" of the stolen vehicles.

Police were working hard to find the small number of outstanding vehicles and continued to ask that the public came forward with any information about their whereabouts, he said.

"Given that many of the vehicles have been recovered locally and in the same condition they were stolen, it is unlikely there was a sophisticated level of organisation by those involved however some coordination would have been necessary," Srhoj said.

Counties Manukau West Area Commander Inspector Matt Srhoj. Photo / Dean Purcell
Counties Manukau West Area Commander Inspector Matt Srhoj. Photo / Dean Purcell

"We have arrested a large number of individuals at this stage and this number is likely to increase as more vehicles are recovered and as forensic results arrive.

"It is likely that some of the arrested people are responsible for taking multiple vehicles."

Earlier in the investigation the inspector confirmed some of the people who had been arrested had gang connections but he said that was not necessarily unusual.

The area commander had not seen a car theft of this scale during his career and agreed it was "brazen" offending.

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A few vehicles had been offered for sale on Facebook Marketplace at low prices - up for grabs for just a couple of thousand when they could be expected to be valued at $10,000.

At the start of the investigation Srhoj had dutifully reminded the public if something looked too good to be true, it probably was.

"It is definitely an offence to receive stolen property. The fact that it is grossly undervalued is a good indication that it very well could be," he said.

Counties Manukau West Area Commander Matt Srhoj talks about the Jucy car thefts. Video / Dean Purcell / Brett Phibbs
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