'Chop shop' robbers siphon €300k in van 'repair' hustle
An organised crime gang involved in selling stolen vans, work vehicles, engines and other stolen car parts has made €300,000 in the space of 18 months.
Our exclusive photos show a 'chop shop' containing hundreds of motor parts and a number of stolen vans seized by detectives as part of a major two-year investigation into the Longford-based Traveller gang.
This week, gardai issued an official warning about one aspect of the activities of the mob, whose two ringleaders are currently on the run in the UK.
European Arrest Warrants are in place for the Longford native and Polish national aged in their 50s and 30s respectively.
"Gardai investigating an organised crime gang involved in the international sale and distribution of stolen machinery and vehicle engines and parts wish to alert owners of Ford Transit vans of a scam targeting them," a spokesman said in a statement.
"The scam works as follows: Adverts are placed on popular online sales sites offering to repair or replace the engines of Ford Transit Vans.
"The advert offers to collect the van from any part of the country, carry out repairs or, if necessary, replace the engine with a reconditioned one and once repaired, to return it.
"In reality, what happens is that once the scammer has the van, an engine stolen in Ireland or the UK is fitted to the van and the owner is told it's a re-conditioned one.
"As a result, some owners, after paying out for repairs to their van have subsequently had their vans seized by gardai for investigations which causes them further loss," the press release read.
Gardai from the Roscommon/Longford Division are advising owners of all vehicles and particularly the owners of Ford Transit vans to be very wary responding to such adverts, whether online or offline, offering engine replacement on a collect-and-return basis.
"You are taking a big risk giving your van to a stranger who collects it from your door and takes it away for repairs to an unknown location.
"If you are a victim, this scam will have cost you money and your van will be seized by gardai".
"An Garda Siochana's advice is that you should only allow a qualified mechanic in a garage that you know to repair your car or van," the statement added.
However, senior sources say that the Ford Transit scam is just the "tip of the iceberg" with the organised crime mob.
"Investigations have established that this gang have been stealing vans in Ireland as well as in the UK and they have hit a number of industrial estates in north Co Dublin," a senior source said.
"The vehicles are then brought back to their base in the midlands where they are either stripped in a chop shop or simply re-registered and sold on to an unsuspecting customer, sometimes for fees of up to €20,000.
"While this is one of the more lucrative aspects of their enterprise, they are also making up to €3,000 from each stolen engine scam," the source explained.
There has been a massive clampdown on the gang over the past year and the gardai's Stolen Motor Vehicle Investigation Unit (SMVIU) backed up by local officers have carried out up a dozen raids against the mob in the past 18 months in a nationwide investigation.
Up to 30 stolen transit vans have been recovered and a warehouse is full of "motor parts" which gardai have seized from the mob.
"This gang is making their money by advertising on websites such as DoneDeal where they offer to replace and recondition engines as well as selling vehicles," the source said.
The Herald can also reveal that members of the gang are also involved in drug dealing, selling fake label clothes, and caravan thefts.