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Dozens of stolen vehicles turning up at the Port of Baltimore. Here’s why.


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    BALTIMORE, Maryland (WJZ) — We’ve shown you how police in the Baltimore region have been finding stolen vehicles in our streets, but that’s not the only way these vehicles are found.

Dozens upon dozens of them are recovered from shipments meant to go overseas, and the Port of Baltimore is one of the top ports of entry where these vehicles turn up nationwide.

Before shipping containers leave the Port of Baltimore, they’re checked at a warehouse in Sparrow’s Point. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is making sure what’s inside is legally supposed to be in there.

But what CBF is finding more of? Smuggled vehicles.

“In this country, in this state, and in this area in the DMV — it is out of control,” said Adam Rottman, the area port director.

Rottman adds the way containers are packed can be a dead giveaway.

“You sell your car legitimately overseas, we’ll open a container and we’ll see it nicely packed right? When we see these stolen automobiles, we’ll see crazy stuff,” he said.

“Crazy stuff” usually means filled to the brim. In one container WJZ saw at the warehouse, big boxes, bags and other things were packed on top of a car. However, taking a closer look at the same container, the bumper of another stolen car could be seen right on top.

Rottman said these containers can be stuffed with around four stolen vehicles at a time, high end SUV’s are the biggest targets.

While the majority of the cars found in containers being shipped from the Port of Baltimore are from Maryland and the surrounding region, it’s not hard to find ties to other places around the country.

So who’s stealing them? Rottman pins the blame on transnational crime organizations. The majority of the stolen vehicles coming from the Port of Baltimore are destined for West Africa, since there are a lot of direct routes to those countries from this port.

But, they’re shipped across the world.

In August, CBP lead Operation Terminus: a federal, state and local effort that recovered 12 vehicles set to be shipped from the Port of Baltimore.

“These are very organized groups of professional criminals overseas that are victimizing United States citizens,” Rottman said. “They are selling those automobiles over there, making the money, and lining the pockets of these criminals.”

The Port of Baltimore is one of 11 ports covered by CBP’s Baltimore Field Office. From Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022, 239 vehicles were recovered. In the same time period a year earlier, only 95 were recovered.

Rottman said finding stolen vehicles is a big part of CBP’s mission.

“Every time you talk about organized, international criminal organizations, there’s gonna be ties somewhere to that terrorism piece, right? So, we’re accomplishing our mission by disrupting those transnational criminal organizations, but at the same time, we’re protecting the U.S. economy,” he said.

While a lot of the stolen vehicles can end up damaged beyond repair, Rottman said some get a happy ending and returned to their owners.

However, that only happens when owners are reporting these thefts.

“What’ll happen sometimes is a car will get stolen, we’ll recover it here and the owner hasn’t even reported it stolen yet. It makes our job a little bit more difficult,” Rottman said. “Make sure you’re reporting that car stolen so it’s in the systems, so we can find it and then just be careful out there.”

CBP recommends getting some kind of tracking feature installed in your car if you don’t have it, to help keep track of where your car is.

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