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FBI busts car theft rings in 22 cities

Southern California has one of the worst auto theft rates  

April 27, 1999
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EDT (0210 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than 200 people in 22 cities have been charged and are being arrested in a nationwide crackdown on car theft rings, the FBI said Tuesday.

Operation "Sudden Stop" is being carried out by FBI agents with state and local law enforcement agencies extending from California to Pennsylvania, said Assistant FBI Director Thomas Pickard.

Authorities made arrests in Miami; Detroit; Memphis, Tennesee; Houston; San Diego; Los Angeles; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, among other cities.

"This is a painful and expensive property crime," said FBI Director Louis Freeh. "Every insured driver in the United States ... bears the cost of this crime in insurance premiums."

The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that $200 of a family's insurance premiums can be directly attributed to auto theft and auto theft insurance fraud.

According to FBI statistics, 1.4 million cars, valued at $8 billion, were stolen in 1997. Nearly 447,000 were never recovered.

Many stolen vehicles shipped abroad

In recent years, many state and local law enforcement agencies shifted their limited resources away from car theft toward more pressing problems, such as drug trafficking and organized street gangs, the FBI said.

As result, organized gangs began to focus their activities on interstate thefts, including the theft of automobiles, Pickard said.

Many of the stolen vehicles are driven or shipped abroad.

"From Lithuania to Paraguay you can see American vehicles that are stolen from here," Pickard said.

He added that only 14 percent of motor vehicle theft cases end with an arrest, the lowest figure among major offenses listed in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

The national auto theft rate in 1997 was 506 per 100,000 inhabitants, down from the 1996 rate of 526. But recovery rates for stolen vehicles also decreased in 1997, the FBI said.

Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

Honda Accord tops list of most-stolen vehicles
September 30, 1998

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