Chop Shops and Stolen Vehicle Parts

The idea of a "chop shop," that is, a business involved in the receipt, concealment, destruction or dismantling of "unlawfully obtained" motor vehicles (18 U.S.C. § 2322) in order to sell the parts thereof, conjures up images of dank repair shops in dark alleys, but in actuality, the business of dealing in stolen vehicle parts has become a very large industry in the United States. Indeed, 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.

First, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2321, whoever buys, receives, possesses or obtains control over any motor vehicle or part thereof with the intent to sell or dispose of such, with the knowledge that an identification number for the car or part, including a vehicle identification number ("VIN"), has been removed, obliterated or tampered with, shall be fined and/or imprisoned by up to ten years. In order to establish that an individual is guilty of this crime, the government must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 1) the defendant acquired or possessed a vehicle or component thereof on which the VIN or other identification number had been removed, tampered with, or altered; 2) such removal, obliteration, or alteration was done unlawfully; 3) the defendant was aware of the unlawful removal, obliteration, or alteration; and 4) the defendant had the intent to sell or dispose of such motor vehicle or component. See United States Department of Justice, Attorney's Resource Manual, available at: https://www.justice.gov/usam/criminal-resource-manual-1376-proving-violations-18-usc-2321 (last viewed April 1, 2018); e.g., United States v. Giovannelli, 2004 WL 48869, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. January 9, 2004).

Second, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2322, whoever knowingly owns, operates, maintains or controls any building, lot or other facility where one or more persons engage in the receipt, dismantling or storage of any unlawfully obtained motor vehicles or parts thereof in order to alter, counterfeit or deface an identification number thereon - including a VIN - in order to sell or dispose of such, shall be fined and/or imprisoned by up to 15 years. 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). Further, 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).

Hiring a top New York criminal defense attorney to defend you in any criminal prosecution involving the receipt, concealment or dismantling of unlawfully obtained motor vehicles or components is crucial and will ensure that every viable defense is explored and utilized on your behalf. Lawyers at 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 at (212) 518-1001 for a free consultation.