Normally, a 2008 BMW M3 or 3 Series sedan in excellent condition would sell for between $35,000 and $42,000 in a private party transaction, depending on mileage and equipment.
For some Jones County buyer who possibly thought they were getting a great deal, the purchase price was closer to $5,000 to $15,000. There is only one catch: the BMW was one of dozens of cars, trucks, and SUVs that had been stolen.
Sheriff Alex Hodge said the vehicles — each ranging in value from $30,000 to $50,000 _–were in the middle of an elaborate vehicle theft ring that has ended in Jones County.
With the assistance of the Jones County District Attorney’s Office and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Hodge said 17 stolen vehicles have been tracked back to the Jackson area while one vehicle was stolen in Jones County. The value of stolen vehicles is anywhere between $510,000 and $800,000, or more, depending on how many vehicles there are once the investigation ends.
“The VIN numbers on the vehicles were copied from legitimate vehicles and placed over the VIN on the stolen vehicle,” Hodge said. “We have learned there is possibly a large number of these vehicles in Jones County.”
Hodge said the sheriff’s department and other local, state, and national agencies are searching for the people directly responsible for stealing the vehicles, fraudulently changing the information, and then selling the cars and trucks.
He said people who purchased one of these vehicles, are required to notify authorities or risk being cited for being in possession of stolen property.
The people who bought one of the stolen cars or trucks will lose their money and the vehicle.
Hodge said conditions for returning it will be much better if done voluntarily and immediately instead of waiting for law enforcement to find a stolen vehicle at a safety checkpoint, wreck, or investigation. Hodge said people need to come forward “in good faith.”
“If we come to you, of course there are going to be a lot of questions to answer,” Hodge said. “We don’t want the folks to be in fear. We just want folks to be honest. This is a large scale vehicle theft ring. We’re making it known now. The longer you keep the vehicle, the less chance you have of convincing us that you didn’t know it was stolen.”
There is also the possibility that the suspects are still trying to sell the vehicles.
Hodge said they aren’t being sold through dealerships, but through private parties. Hodge said most of the transitions have been either cash or check, but one bank is involved in at least one of the transactions.
“If you’re looking at a $50,000 truck or SUV, and you’re paying $10,000 or $15,000, a red flag needs to go up pretty quick.
“If you are in possession of a vehicle you got a deal too good to be true, you need to come forward. If you’re having a hard time getting your title, that’s a good indication right there.
“Again, there is a stolen vehicle ring out and about that is affecting Jones County. We have all indications in Jones County this number will go higher,” Hodge said.
Hodge said people should be careful while shopping for a used vehicle. He again said that reputable dealerships aren’t the ones selling these stolen vehicles.
He said although shoppers should look for good deals, they should stay clear from deals “too good to be true.” He said people should check the VIN. The stolen VINs will often match the type of vehicle, but won’t match the vehicle exactly.
“Be sure you know who you’re dealing with,” Hodge said. “Know who you’re talking to. The good ole boy system has gotten dangerous now.”
So far, there has been one person arrested, but others are expected, the sheriff said.
Information from: The Laurel Leader Call,
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