There are many used vehicles totaled on September 11, 2001 after World Trade Center terrorist attack. Those used cars were declared as "totaled" by auto insurance companies. Many of those vehicles had little if any damage by the incidents. Some asbestos from the building dust might entered the car through broken or cracked car windows.
A woman in Connecticut concerned that a Mitsubishi Spyder convertivle she bought from a New Haven area used car dealer had a funny smell and heavy, granular dust in the interior.
She could've prevented the buying a totaled car if she had check the Vehicle Identification Number / VIN Number of the Car and run a AutoCheck Report
. She might have been illegally sold a "totaled" car from the WTC.
On September 9, 2004 Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Brooklyn, New York, arrested "the largest chop shop on the east coast," an underground crime organization masquerading behind a front, Astra Motor Cars, Inc. Astra was a "nationwide retail dealer of used and salvage vehicles" operating from Brooklyn .
The 51-page indictment included 82 counts against 11 different defendants from six states - New York , New Jersey , Ohio , Georgia , Colorado, and North Carolina . Ten were arrested on the 9th and 10th and arraigned before a Federal judge in Brooklyn. One was still a fugitive a week later.
The Federal law violations alleged conspiracy, mail fraud, operating a chop shop, trafficking in motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts, money laundering and tampering with, altering, or removing vehicle identification numbers, with possible prison sentences of up to 20 years and fines of up to $250,000 for each count.
Judging by names of the defendants - who represented a wide range of ethnicities - it almost looked like their biggest concern was compliance with politically correct equal opportunity employment. But their main incentive was ripping off buyers of used high-end cars like Bimmers, Benzes, Lexus, Cadillac, upscale SUVs and, surprisingly, even mundane Camrys.
This should caution reader of http://www.is-it-a-lemon.com about the danger of buying used cars that may have been totaled because not all totaled vehicles will have a blemished appearance on the outside or inside of the car. The Department of Justice announcement, it should be noted, even included the admonition: "The charges in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."
How the crime works
Damaged, destroyed, and stolen vehicles were acquired from as far away as Florida but mainly in the Northeast corridor. They used stolen parts to rebuild the motor vehicles and then sold them to consumers. Some were sold through a shifty New Jersey used car dealer, while others went all over the country.
According to the vehicle theft unit of the Suffolk County Police Department, in effect Astra also had an export department, shipping hot cars to the Middle East, Latin America, and some parts of the former Soviet Eastern bloc.
They bribed Department of Motor Vehicle employees in Georgia and Ohio to accept fraudulent paperwork and issue seemingly legitimate titles for questionable vehicles. "In some instances," the DOJ said, "the vehicles were not roadworthy, having been extensively damaged and inadequately repaired, although fraudulently represented by the defendants to be undamaged used cars."
To help conceal the scheme and generate "legitimate" paperwork for the damaged or stolen vehicles, hundreds of cars, trucks, and SUVs were fictitiously sold to dead or non-existent buyers.
Astra also is alleged to have supplied drug dealers with "tanker" vehicles from its pool of ill-acquired wheels, complete with hidden compartments for narcotics traffickers to spread their wares throughout the U. S.
But the highpoint of their activities in my view and the "most brazen," according to law enforcement authorities, was this: They would steal high-end cars - "where the money is," then strip and abandon them as hulks on public roadways. They then monitored insurance company auctions to buy the same hulks, rebuild them from their original stripped parts, and resell them as ordinary used vehicles. That's where some of the mickey-mousing with crooked titles came in.
They also sold "VIN kits" - vehicle identification numbers stripped from totaled cars - to professional car thieves for ready application to stolen cars.
When the car crimes began
According to Brooklyn law enforcement agencies, the crooked auto theft schemes had been ongoing since 1987 with "Astra on our radar screen for a long time." Pointed investigation began with a workable tip in 2002 to the Suffolk County Police, which brought in the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. The task force tabbed Operation VIN City was then expanded to include the FBI and Internal Revenue Service because of Federal crimes and to the Suffolk County District Attorney and Brooklyn U. S. Attorney's Office for prosecution. Basically, Astra was put out of business by a raid in June 2003.
The Feds estimated the gang netted more than $20 million over five years at the expense of innocent car buyers. In addition to re-investing in their crime ring, they also laundered the money into such ventures as apartment houses, shopping centers and strip malls on Long Island . Not to mention a country estate for the gang's alleged leader.
The WTC totaled vehicles would be laundred by these auto theft crooks. The Suffolk cops found at least one, a BMW X5.
Even if the Brooklyn-based crooks beat the federal rap, they are in for it on state counts and income tax evasion.
The whole business makes me wonder how much of this hot car crime is going on all over the country, and what a consumer's protections might be.
A local tow truck operator told me that around Detroit right now, the thieves don't bother with whole cars. They strip the wheels off a high-end vehicle in the owner's driveway in an instant and peddle them readily on eBay.
There are online services like AutoCheck to check out a vehicle's history. But awareness and caution are the best protectors of your money. "Buyer beware" and "know your merchant" are two good slogans to keep in mind, along with "if the price sounds too good, it's probably hot."