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Customs intercepts 16 expensive stolen vehicles about to be shipped from Calif. to Asia
CARSON, Calif. (AP) ' Customs officials in Southern California showed off Ferraris, Mercedes and Audis at an evidence warehouse Tuesday after seizing 16 of the stolen luxury vehicles as they were bound for Asia, authorities said.
The vehicles, intercepted at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach along with four more seized after they'd reached Vietnam, were worth an estimated total of $1.5 million, said Carlos Martel, director of field operations in Los Angeles for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
They include BMW and Mercedes SUVs, an Audi Quattro and a black 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia valued at $280,000.
The Ferrari was the key to the bust.
The thieves had used fake identities to either lease or agree to buy the new vehicles in the Los Angeles area, defrauding dealers, lenders and insurance companies in the process, Martel said.
The Ferrari dealer used a GPS in the car to track it to an area near the ports, and tipped off customs agents in February, Martel said.
The tip led to an investigation of the ring and the seizure of a few vehicles, then last week a suspicious ship was ordered to return to the port shortly after departure.
"They were all the way out to sea, on their way to Hong Kong and Vietnam," Martel said.
Inside containers labeled "used exercise equipment" they found a dozen cars.
Most of the cars were luxury SUVs including several from the BMW 5 series, along with the Ferrari, the Audi and a Toyota Tundra pickup.
As pricey as the vehicles are, they would have pulled in far more in Vietnam and Hong Kong.
"They're worth anywhere from two to three times the value of what they're worth in the United States," Martel said.
The investigation remains in its early stages and no one has been arrested, Martel said. He would not comment on when arrests may occur, or on the size or reach of the operation.