A law enforcement effort dubbed "Operation Tow Truck" has brought state and federal charges against 19 residents of Iowa and Nebraska. The year-long investigation involved the opening a store in Council Bluffs called "Chicago Imports" where undercover officers could track the sale of stolen property.
Jessica Lown, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, says a network of known criminals began to frequent the store. "We wouldn’t say there was organized crime going on in the Sopranos sense," Lown explains, "but you know, people talk. There’s definitely a referral business so to speak. One person would come in and sell a stolen car, and then the next time they’d bring in their buddy who had stolen a car – that kind of thing."
Between March of 2006 and December of 2007, law enforcement officers spent nearly $71,000 to purchase an estimated $1.4 million worth of stolen goods. Lown says, "There are some really extraordinary cases. I’ve heard stories where there were two brand new cars, with only 15 miles and the plastic still on the seats. These $30,000 cars were sold for $700." Authorities expect to make more arrests in the case and Lown says similar stings could be in the works.
"The criminal element should know that we’re doing this," Lown says, "and they should know when they decide to go out there and sell a car or piece of construction equipment that they stole – that they might be selling to a cop." During the investigation, officers bought cars and SUVs, pickups, motorcycles, boats, guns, construction items, jet skis and various illegal drugs. The items had been reported stolen from Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Texas.