Florida law enforcement pushed back this week against a nationwide surge in auto thefts, announcing that 23 people were arrested for their alleged participation in a crime ring that forged vehicle identification numbers for stolen luxury vehicles.
Arrest warrants have been issued for four other suspected criminals, bringing the total number of suspects to 23.
“The members of this criminal organization orchestrated a multi-stage scheme to defraud potential car customers at every step of the way, selling stolen vehicles with fraudulent VINs, illegally sourced license plates, and dummy insurance policies,” Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass said in a press release.
The department said a multi-agency investigation dubbed Operation Gone in 60 Days launched in July 2018 when agents began looking into allegations that Florida commercial driver licenses were being illegally distributed to people who had not completed the required training courses. Investigators discovered a criminal organization that issued fraudulent VINs for high-end vehicles obtained through fraud or theft.
The criminals sold the vehicles below market value and fraudulently assigned “illegally sourced” license plates, FDLE said. They also stole from their customers by collecting money for “dummy” auto insurance policies that quickly lapsed.
The Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud, the Florida Highway Patrol and the National Insurance Crime Bureau assisted with the investigation.
Vehicle thefts have been on the upswing nationally, NICB said earlier this month. The organization said the number of stolen vehicles surpassed 1 million in 2022, the highest number of thefts since 2008 and a 7% increase from 2021. The stolen vehicles had an estimated value of $8.9 billion, NICB said.
“We are seeing vehicle theft numbers that we haven’t seen in nearly 15 years, and there is very little deterrent to stop criminals from committing these acts as they are just property crimes, like shoplifting,” stated David J. Glawe, NICB’s president and chief executive officer. “We must reinvest in local law enforcement, provide the necessary resources for prosecution and community policing programs, and implement early intervention programs given the high incidence of juvenile offenders involved in vehicle thefts.”
The suspects arrested in Florida allegedly focused their efforts on luxury brands such as Porsche, Land Rover and Maserati. They would use couriers, fake names and fraudulent payments to feign the purchase of vehicles. Dealerships would not learn that they had been duped until after the cars were off their lots, the department said.
FDLE said the criminals also rented luxury cars and filed fake police reports stating that they had been stolen.
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