Cars stolen from Penticton Toyota likely headed overseas
Four sets of hot wheels that rolled off the lot at Penticton Toyota this week are probably already in a cargo container headed overseas, according to an insurance investigator.
The brand-new vehicles and their keys were stolen within hours of being delivered to the dealership Monday night after the close of business.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my 22 years here,” said Penticton Toyota general sales manager Larry Pidperyhora.
Missing are a pair of blue RAV4s, a grey 4Runner and a bronze Tundra pickup, all 2014 model years with a combined value of $170,000.
Pidperyhora said nine vehicles were to be unloaded by the transport company Monday and the all keys placed into a locked drop box.
“It’s virtually impossible to retrieve these keys after you drop them in the box,” he said, adding the transport company has insisted, though, that its driver delivered all nine vehicles and keys as usual.
“At any given time I have 150 to 200 vehicles on this property. Night after night, month after month, year after year, they’re safe and secure. Then, one night, nine land and four go missing? That’s weird,” said Pidperyhora.
The manager believes some major planning went into the theft.
“To me, you don’t steal four vehicles for a joyride,” he said.
Rick Dubin, vice-president of investigative services for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, agreed the heist doesn’t appear to be an amateur job.
“This shows signs of organized crime, most likely for the purpose of exporting them,” Dubin said, adding Penticton’s proximity to Vancouver would make getting the vehicles overseas much easier.
His opinion is based on the work of a partnership between his group and the Canada Border Services Agency at ports in Montreal and Halifax, where last year they seized 500 stolen vehicles worth $8.7 million.
The most commonly recovered rides were high-end, all-wheel drive vehicles, said Dubin, while the most common intended destination was West Africa, where there’s a well-established distribution network.
Most cars stolen for export are put into cargo containers “within an hour or two,” he continued, and placed aboard a ship soon after.
Besides sending them overseas, Dubin said, thieves commonly replace a hot car’s vehicle identification number with one from a similar model that’s been sent to a junkyard, thereby making the stolen wheels legitimate.
“It’s a buyer-beware situation if you’re buying private. We recommend that you buy from a reputable dealership,” he said, adding purchasers should also get the vehicle’s history report and have a mechanic inspect the car to make sure all VIN numbers match.
This week’s quadruple theft marked the second time in three months police have been called to investigate a high-profile case at a Penticton car dealership.
In October, a 2011 Corvette was driven through a showroom window and off the lot of Huber Bannister Chevrolet.
The car was recovered a few days later in Surrey.
“That was pretty brazen and different, too, but this is four of them,” Penticton RCMP spokesman Sgt. Rick Dellebuur said of the current investigation, which has not been linked to the Corvette caper.
Although the four Toyotas may be long gone by now, Mounties would still like the public to keep an eye out for them.
“We all pay the cost of theft, whether it’s shoplifting or stealing cars, through our insurance premiums and everything else,” said Dellebuur.