Lake County Sheriff John Buncich on Monday announced the arrests of seven people and the recovery of more than $3 million in stolen vehicles and other train cargo, including electronics, prescription drugs and guns, following an eight-month investigation in Northwest Indiana and Chicago.
With the assistance of CSX Railroad and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the investigation found 20 vehicles whose VINs had been changed and that those charged were targeting freight trains loaded with TVs, computers, Tylenol, Rolaids and other “high-ticket items” items destined for Walgreens and other retail stores, authorities said. They said NICB assisted the investigation by providing funds to buy the stolen items at storefronts in Chicago, Bedford Park and online.
Eight Northwest Indiana residents are facing charges ranging from auto theft and firearm theft to possession of retagged vehicles and fleeing law enforcement. They are Cleveland Neal, 35, of Gary; Onrae Jordan, 29, of Gary; Carl Rogers, 34, of Gary; James Magee, 25, of Gary; Hammond resident Triston Smith, 34; Larry Dee Williams, 35, of Gary, and Merrillville resident Derrick Frazier, 45. Crown Point resident Amanda Grove, 32, is at large, but police are searching for her on charges of auto theft and resisting law enforcement.
Police searched two Gary residences — at 1041 Cleveland St. and 700 W. 45th Ave. — and found two stolen cars, motorcycles, guns and ammunition, high-end handbags and a VIN cloning operation.
Buncich said those charged knew which train cars to target.
“It’s amazing how fast they can get into a freight car and steal the merchandise, mainly at night but sometimes even in the daytime,” he said.
CSX technical special agent James Haskell said thieves also prey upon cargo when trains are stopped for signal delays, derailments,or construction.
Buncich said an estimated $3.2 million in vehicles and $10 million in train cargo are stolen in the Chicago area, including Northwest Indiana, each year.
NICB senior vice president Jim Schweitzer said cloning VINs means the vehicles can be sold to unsuspecting buyers.
“This all affects ultimately the pocketbook of every consumer in the United States,” Schweitzer said. “When you go to buy insurance, your auto, homeowner’s, even commercial, the impact of theft ... is felt by individuals (because) rates are higher.”
Buncich said the investigations remain active at this time, with an additional 11 people possibly facing charges.
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