Action News Investigation into rise of dealership auto thefts in Philadelphia region

There were more than 8,800 thefts reported in 2021 in Philadelphia. That's up from approximately 5,500 in 2020 and 1,900 in 2019.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Auto thefts have exploded in recent years, which has coincided with the pandemic and a rise in of value of vehicles.

There were more than 8,800 thefts reported in 2021 in Philadelphia. That's up from approximately 5,500 in 2020 and 1,900 in 2019.

A series of auto thefts from car dealerships and repair shops, specifically, had victims reaching out to Action News.

In the early hours of December 17, thieves stole two high-performance vehicles from Barbera Autoland on Roosevelt Boulevard.

The brazen auto theft was caught on the dealership's elaborate surveillance system.

The video captured the suspects pull up in a white Dodge Charger Hellcat with a blue stripe and bronze rims.

Two suspects get out of the Dodge.

Police say they first steal a Black Durango SRT valued at $70,000 that was blocking the dealership exit.

They then steal a white Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk which is valued at $90,000.



"A minute and 13 seconds... a minute and 13 seconds," said owner Gary Barbera. "They almost had $200,000 in product."

Barbera said later in the morning, the thieves came back and tried to steal more vehicles but on-site security officers stopped it.

Both Barbera and Philadelphia police said it appeared the bandits "jimmied" the door locks, then set up a sophisticated computer system that created a remote key on site. They then started the vehicles and drove off.

"They're reprogramming the car as if they're at Detroit," Barbera said.

His dealership is not alone.

Abington police said several criminals smashed a window at the Reedman Toll Service Center around 1 a.m. on December 22.

They reached in and grabbed several sets of keys on the service counter. They stole one vehicle.

The suspects came back three hours later and stole two more, including Chris Smith's Dodge Ram.

"Someone didn't do their job," said Smith. "Someone didn't lock up the keys properly and that made it easy access."

Steve's Car Care Center on Castor Avenue had five vehicles stolen on January 5.

The theft was also captured on surveillance video.

Loni Sakil had her 2020 Honda Accord stolen while it was being serviced at Piazza Honda in Southwest Philadelphia in October.

The dealership tells Action News it has no idea how the car disappeared but someone took the keys.

Piazza Honda called the theft an "isolated incident."

Sakil said the dealership told her, "'We don't know where your car is. We don't know who the last person who saw it was. All we know, pretty much is that you dropped it off. That's it.'"

The auto thefts have been frustrating and cumbersome for victims like Smith and Sakil who both said the dealerships should have done more to protect their keys.

"They haven't done anything. All they told me, honestly, was just go through my insurance company," said Smith.

Reedman Toll did not return Action News' calls or email for comment.

Abington police are investigating the Reedman Toll thefts, but have no suspects.

Philadelphia police recovered the stolen Barbera vehicles in Camden after an internal GPS system located them.

Police suspect these criminal networks ship stolen vehicles overseas or chop for parts, and in some circumstances, it's simply youngsters trying to joyride and post videos on social media apps.

"We are seeing things we've never seen before, so every day we have to audit ourselves, learn from lessons learned and do better and be better," said Barbera.

Police said there is no indication the thefts are connected.

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