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Chop Shops and Stolen Vehicle Parts in New York

A “chop shop” is a business involved in the receipt, concealment, destruction or dismantling of “unlawfully obtained” motor vehicles in order to sell their parts, according to 18 U.S.C. § 2322. Despite the myriad general charges that may be used to punish this crime, including the receipt or possession of stolen property (18 U.S.C. § 2315), Congress has enacted laws that specifically target this conduct, with punishments ranging up to 30 years imprisonment under certain circumstances. Therefore, if you have been accused of participating in a chop shop or selling stolen vehicle parts in New York, speak with the defense attorneys at our firm.

How Does Federal Law Address “Chop Shops”?

First, according to 18 U.S.C. § 2321, whoever buys, receives, possesses or obtains control over any stolen motor vehicle or its parts with the intent to sell or dispose of it, with the knowledge that an identification number for the car or part, including a vehicle identification number (“VIN”), has been removed or tampered with, may receive fines and/or face a prison sentence of up to ten years.

To establish that an individual is guilty of this crime, the government must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant acquired or possessed a vehicle or component on which the VIN or other identification number had been removed or altered;
  • Such removal was done unlawfully;
  • The defendant was aware of the unlawful removal or alteration; and
  • The defendant had the intent to sell or dispose of such motor vehicle or component.

Second, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2322, whoever knowingly owns, operates, or controls any facility where one or more persons engage in the receipt, dismantling or storage of any unlawfully obtained motor vehicles or parts to defance an identification number to sell or dispose of such may receive fines and face up to 15 years in prison. See, e.g.United States v. Uder, 98 F.3d 1039, 1044-45 (8th Cir. 1996); see also United States v. Pescatore, 637 F.3d 128, 131 (2d Cir. 2011).

Additionally, in the case of a second or any subsequent conviction, the maximum term of imprisonment is increased to 30 years. 18 U.S.C. § 2322(a)(1).

What Must Federal Authorities Prove to Secure a Conviction?

There are two crucial components that must be present for federal authorities to convict someone on charges related to running a chop shop. First, they must prove that the defendant owns the building or facility where the alleged illegal activity took place. Second, the defendant must have had direct or constructive knowledge of the illegal activity going on at their property.

The first element of these kinds of offenses can be proven through public records, although the involvement of one or more businesses in a building’s ownership may make this process more complex. Establishing foreknowledge of a chop shop is where these cases can cause trouble for prosecutors, especially if a defendant retains skilled legal counsel to help construct their defense.

Federal Versus State Prosecution for Stolen Vehicle Parts

If a chop shop operation is relatively small and does not cross state lines at all, it may be prosecuted under New York state law rather than federal law. According to NYPL §§165.09 through 165.11, there are three degrees of the crime of auto stripping a person may be charged with based on evidence that they are taking apart a stolen vehicle for parts and reselling those components.

Only third-degree auto stripping is considered a misdemeanor offense, as it generally involves only one vehicle being stripped or resold without the owner’s permission. Subsequent offenses and offenses that involve more than three vehicles and more than $3,000 of stolen parts are prosecuted as felonies.

Hire a Skilled Attorney When Facing Charges for Selling Stolen Vehicle Parts in New York

If you are facing federal or state-level charges related to chop shop allegations, your best bet for effectively contesting those charges is to seek legal advice from a qualified criminal defense lawyer. These charges are often prosecuted extremely severely in both New York state courts and federal District Courts, and since anything you say at any point could be used against you by the prosecution, it is a good idea to let legal counsel do your talking for you.

Hiring an experienced attorney to defend you in any criminal prosecution involving chop shop and stolen vehicle parts charges in New York is crucial. The Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman have successfully handled countless federal cases, exploiting holes in the prosecution’s evidence to achieve the best possible result for our clients. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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