PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Authorities in Philadelphia say they have broken up a massive car theft ring that took years for investigators to get to the bottom of.

Thirty-one people are in jail and one more remains on the loose. All are charged in the elaborate scheme that included more than 45 vehicles that were allegedly stolen and then illegally sold with bogus Vehicle Identification Numbers and documentation.

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District Attorney Seth Williams says typically, one of the defendants would rent a car and report it stolen. Then VINs from salvaged cars were attached on the stolen vehicles, which would be cleared for sale by inspectors on the take and resold for big profits.

“[They were sold] for anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000,” Williams said. “This scheme cost local rental car companies more than $500,000.”

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The real victims were the unsuspecting buyers who were taken for a ride. One of them was a young, single mother who spent her savings on a car that was impounded.

Williams identified the ring leaders as Jihad Miller and Preston Thomas. Both of them are in custody along with all but one of the accused.

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If convicted, Miller and Thomas could face a maximum sentence of 50 to 100 years in prison.