TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- There's probably no way to describe the feeling. One moment, Guiseppe "Joe" Pirrone was on a long weekend at the beach.
The next moment, he found out the pickup that he bought a year ago is stolen, and he is still on the hook for the $27,000 loan. Stories like Pirrone's are scattered across the country, and Tuesday the FBI announced that it has broken up one of the largest auto theft cases in the U.S. Capping "Operation Dual Identity," arrest warrants for 17 people were executed in Tampa and Miami, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; and in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico. The suspects were accused of "cloning" vehicles, which is making stolen cars look like legal ones.
The FBI says that the ring was operating in the U.S. for more than 20 years. More than 1,000 vehicles were stolen in Florida, with more than $25 million in losses to consumers and banks. Car theft rings clone vehicles by taking license plates, vehicle identification numbers (VIN), and other tags and stickers from a legal car and putting them on a stolen vehicle of similar make and model.
Pirrone has hired an attorney, and he is considering filing a lawsuit against the dealership to get the bank's money back. Pirrone said he was advised by his lawyer not to name the used car lot.
There is now way that the 17 goons arrested in Tampa Fl were able to re-register the 1000+ stolen high end vehicles without the aid of a local Used Car Dealer or Dealers, who work with immunity as they are never listed as the registered owner of the vehicles, and they are able to expedite the falsified registrations at the local County Tag Office, so who is kidding who here, none of the arrested appear to be used car dealers !
Law enforcement hopes that this is the beginning of the end of the "car cloning" scam. The National Motor Vehicle Information system (NMVTIS) database was implemented in January. It allows state DMVs to share title and registration information.
Cloned vehicles were moved and sold to buyers in 20 states and several countries, often for less than market value, the FBI said. Many of the vehicles were exchanged for drugs, according to the bureau. The FBI says that people need to be careful when buying a car independently.
"Folks should be educated enough so that they don't buy a car from a stranger, on the street, or in a back alley somewhere," said the FBI's Dave Couvertier. "And if you're getting it for too good a deal, it should be raising flags."
Private Investigator Bill Warner has written extensively on the used car scam, stolen cars VIN's switched and sold to unsuspecting customers in the USA and abroad. The VIN switch scam needs a used car dealer to be able to re-register vehicles with false ID and switched VIN's, the FBI got the street hustlers and the movers and shakers of the operation but did not arrest the real kingpins of the operation, the used car dealers who handle all the paper work.
One of the arrested in the FBI bust in Tampa was Frank Samuel Ferrera, DOB 06/04/79 arrested on 3/24/2009 and 5 previous times in the Tampa area, he appears to have possible links to an auto parts business in Tampa that could have helped in changing out auto registrations.
There were two glaring examples of auto registration fraud by a Used Car dealer in Sarasota and Miami Fl during 2008, see Thursday, December 11, 2008, FLORIDA USED CAR DEALERS ARRESTED, SERGIY ZHELEZNYAK IN SARASOTA AND ALI HASSAN HAMMOUD IN MIAMI, STOLEN CARS TO RUSSIA AND MIDDLE EAST, VIN SWITCHING.
VIN Switching: The Ultimate Alias for Auto Theft. Sarasota used car dealer Sergiy Zheleznyak had obtained 36 phony car titles for nonexistent vehicles, late model vehicles such as six 2009 Mercedes Benz sedans, two 2008 BMW's, and an assortment of 2008 and 2009 Honda Accords, Accra's and Toyota's.
Sergiy Zheleznyak runs MS Auto a small used car/body shop in North Port Fl, there is no possible way he could have actually paid cash for almost $1 Million in late model luxury vehicles.
Sergiy Zheleznyak was obtaining the phony titles on the non-existent vehicles from the Sarasota County Tag office for his associate Alexksandr Mikhaylov in New York City. "Auto Body Repairs and Painting" MS Auto is also listed as body shop repairs and painting in local phone listings.
Sergiy Zheleznyak, as MS Auto, was going to receive $100 each for the phony titles from Alexksandr Mikhaylov in New York City as Mr. Mikhaylov needed the new titles to ship vehicles matching the description (stolen possibly) to Russia.
All of the supposed 36 vehicles that Sergiy Zheleznyak registered in Sarasota were new, full size sedans, SUV's and pick-up trucks with 5 to 50 miles listed on the odometer, with no lien holders, free and clear, but of course they did not ever exist in Sarasota, on paper only, but in New York City that is a different story.
Hammoud, a native of Lebanon who lives in Miramar, was arrested Friday July 24th 2008 at Miami International Airport by FBI agents arrest as he was attempting to fly to Beirut. Muslim used car dealer Ali Hassan Hammoud was able to steal $5.7 Million from the State of Florida and wire transferred at least $3 Million to Beirut Lebanon (can you say "Hezbollah").
The State sent money intended for Anderson Columbia Co. Inc. to an account Hammoud had opened at Regions Bank in Miami in the name of the Lake City-based contractor, FBI Special Agent Zachary Coates wrote in a sworn statement. The State made four electronic cash transfers totaling about $5.7 million to the bogus account July 21-22, according to statements.
About $3.8 million was transferred to a second Regions account Hammoud opened in the name of Zamaiss Import Export Inc. (used car export) and then withdrawn through a variety of means including international wire transfers, all during the same two days. That left a negative balance of $1,405 in the Zamaiss account.
Hezbollah has been involved in the stolen car racket to support terrorism for years, Hezbollah theft rings have stolen luxury cars in Canada and sent them to Lebanon for use by senior Hezbollah officials. Ali Hassan Hammoud was more than likely sending stolen vehicles out of the country after switching the VIN's from the Copart auction cars to the stolen cars and then via the Port of Miami to the Middle East through his Zamaiss Import Export company.