Chop Shop Chumps
By: Neil Harrison ~
Chop Shop Chumps....
One cold and snowy December day, we were contacted by a workers compensation insurer to investigate the suspicious wage loss claims of a local auto body shop and repair business. The shop manager of 12 employees had recently filed a suspect claim for his own ongoing total disability, in the amount of $300,000.00, related to an alleged work related accident.
After our initial no charge consultation, the insurer hired us to conduct a thorough background on the claimant and conduct surveillance to determine and document his daily activity levels in order to verify the claimants actual level of activity and ability.
Our initial background investigation started with searching public databases, reviewing social media sites, reviewing court records, etcetera, where we were able to determine that the Claimant was one of four brothers who were heavily involved in the wrestling community. In fact we also learned that the Claimants grandfather was a famous former pro-wrestler of television fame, who assisted them in promoting their events.
The court records search showed that the company employees and the Claimant were also involved in multiple civil actions to recover monies from allegedly stolen vehicles, and had also been previously charged with possession of stolen property.
Equipped with photos of the Claimant and all of his employees, courtesy of their own social media postings, we set of to establish our surveillance, beginning with the Claimants residence. This residence was a "McMansion" type home, set back from the road behind a high brick wall with a wrought iron electric gate controlling access to the driveway. Behind the gate we could observe the expected black Cadillac Escalade, and a bottle green Mercedes sedan by the house, and unexpectedly an older decrepit looking rusted black and red tow truck.
A short time later the Claimants older brother jogged out of the front gate and turned in the direction of a local woodland trail, soon followed by the Claimant and a younger brother driving the red tow truck.
We followed the claimant to his shop, noting that the shop compound and parking area was enclosed by a tall cinderblock wall, with a solid paneled set of steel gates controlling entry. The younger brother exited the passenger seat and opened the gate, closing it again after the Claimant drove through.
A canvass of the surrounding public streets and access areas yielded no locations where we could set up and observe the interior of the shop or yard. We did note that a neighboring towing company business had second floor offices that faced the Claimants shop and yard area. Consent was obtained from the owner to use a second floor office that afforded us the best view of the Claimants yard area, and portions of the interior of the building when the roll-up doors were opened.
We established two team surveillance, one team inside observing, recording and reporting the activity to the second team parked outside in position to follow the Claimant when he leaves. On one of these occasions the Claimant was observed visiting a private import/export shipping company, specializing in personal effects and automobiles, then returning inside his shop.
Over the next few weeks of surveillance, we observed the Claimant and his employees removing and carrying vehicle hoods, car doors, body panels, seats, and assorted engine and interior parts ...... but strangely enough we never saw any of these vehicles being re-assembled. We also observed several vehicles arriving and being driven out of sight to the rear of the building.
Two nights later we observed a roll-on-roll-off delivery truck arrive carrying an ocean shipping container which appeared to be empty, due to its movement and bouncing when encountering potholes, and three hours later the same truck departed with the now obviously heavier container still on it.
The following day we interviewed the import export Broker (on the record) and determined that the Claimant was shipping vehicles overseas to "family" members in Europe. The Claimant had provided copies of valid ownership, title, and registration documents to the Broker, along with apparently legitimate bills of sale for the vehicles. We requested and were given copies of them.
While we were still conducting our interview with the Broker, we observed from his office window, the red tow truck arriving and two of the claimants larger employees entered the Broker's office tossing me a cell phone. One of the employees said "it's for you, you know who it is".
I caught the phone, looked at the displayed callers number, and asked "what do you want"?
The Claimant, on the other end of the line, told me "you have 5 seconds to get the f__k out of there, or I'm gonna kill you. You are f___ing with my business".
I told the two employees (while still on the line with the Claimant) that we were recording everything and up to this point they were not involved, but if they didn't leave now, then they would be just as liable as the Claimant. I tossed the phone back to the employees and they left, we then called local law enforcement and had them respond to our location.
Upon closer examination of the documentation we were able to determine that the vehicles were likely stolen, and how the Claimant had obtained the fraudulent registration documentation. The Claimants employee would steal high demand SUV's (Explorer, Escalade, Navigator, etc), he would then take the vehicle documents kept in the glovebox and forge bills of sale from the listed owner, he would then take them to a city in the Yukon or the Northwest Territories and transfer them to his name using a local P.O. Box at the local motor vehicle licensing agent (these agencies were not computerized and therefore not linked to the other states or territories), he would then issue legitimate bills of sale to people he had sold them to (online) in Europe, and ship them overseas in containers.
We even managed to track and have photographed one of the Explorers reported as stolen in British Columbia, being driven around in Poland with a BC plate still on it.
After a thorough investigation, we had gathered enough evidence to provide police with the evidence of the chop shop activities, and of the manner and means of the relicensing and transport of the stolen vehicles.
Shortly afterwards many states, territories, and provinces stopped allowing the use of P.O.Box addresses on vehicle licensing and registration documents, insisting on a legitimate physical address.
Needless to say, not only was the Claimants disability claim denied, he was ordered by the courts to repay over $100,000.00 to the victims of the vehicle thefts, and over $65,000.00 in court costs and public defender legal fees...... he had also claimed he was indigent and therefore demanded a court appointed defense firm.
This was one of our scarier cases....... stay tuned for more!