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Stolen luxury cars found by customs agents

April 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
U.S. Customs and Border Protection recovered more than a dozen stolen luxury cars and trucks just before they were shipped overseas. Some had been labeled as "used fitness equipment," officials said.

Authorities say the scheme was part of a more elaborate plan.

The bust was the result of a GPS signal that was given off by a Ferrari. It led inspectors to check the shipping container that it was packed in, and then to check out nine other shipping containers that were all listed under the same sender.

Officer Marlene Figueroa said smugglers labeled the shipping containers as scales, used printer cartridges and used fitness equipment.

They found 20 cars and trucks - together valued at more than $1.5 million. All are brand new and stolen.

Federal agents confiscated them over the past several weeks. Smugglers were trying to ship them out of the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, destined for Hong Kong and Vietnam.

They were the payoff of an intricate scheme where stolen identities were used to buy or lease the vehicles through bogus companies. Smugglers then quickly packed the cars into the mislabeled containers and shipped them off.

"I always say while we're sleeping, smugglers are thinking of new and intricate ways to bypass detection," Figueroa said.

The bust is just part of a bigger auto smuggling problem. Last year, customs officers snagged 61 stolen vehicles - a number that continues to climb.

"This year, we've seized over 53 vehicles with a value of $2.7 million, so a lot of high-end vehicles mostly," Figueroa said.

No arrests have been made. Authorities say the investigation is ongoing.

The recovered vehicles will be turned over to the California Highway Patrol, who will return them to the financing companies that now own them.


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