Currently I am working on a project that expands on the topic developed in my book -- auto theft during the 1920s and 1930s. Reviewing materials recently acquired from the National Archives, I stumbled upon this letter, which reads in part:
Mexico City, Mexico
April 20, 1937
You would be interested to know tht the majority of the stolen cars in the United States are being brought into Mexico by a bunch of clever crooks, msotly every one of them comes into Mexico via Laredo, N.L. Mexico, and are being helped out by one of the Chiefs of Immigration of that palce, his name I cannot tell you but it would be easy fro you to find out, because this man was here in Mexico City only last week with a fellow by the name of Frank Russell, as I understand they came to find how business were [sic] getting along, accomplises of these fellows are Agustin Dienner who has a Store situated at No. 6 Independence Street, Francisco Pena an Agente of the Wells Fargo here, this man helps out not only this racket but to bring contraband from Mexico into the U.S. and vice versa of German made guns, and several other things. This man and other fellow by the name of Chaps who has an Store in Santa Veracruz Street help a fellow Clark E. Clarke, alias Michale C. Clarke, Michael C. OBrien topass [sic] the cars across the border counting with the help of several politicians and police force there.
Next Door to the Store of the name Chapa is a printing place where all the engraving and letter heads for the bills of lading are done, the name of the owner of this palce is Rodriguez and is a friend of the two men mentioned above.
Morton Campbell of Monterrey, who owns a soda Water Factory knows plenty about it, and so does his brother in Sabinas Hidalgo. In Kansas City Mo. lives a chap byu the name of Pete, whose address is 3014 Harrison Street who helps to pick up the cars. Another man by Mike, who ahs an aprtment on 62 Amazonas Street also.
Dienner Fellow is a very clever individual and so is fellow Pena. Obrien carries with him a geman amde gun Parabellum 765 and so is this other fellow Mike, who is leaving for Texas this week and so is OBrien.
Hope this information will be for the good of your coutnry and mine.
RECEIVED AT FBI OFFICE IN SAN ANTONIO 5/1/37.
And the problem has never been solved:
Senator Feinstein Urges Bush Administration to Crack Down on
U.S. Stolen Cars Transported to Mexico
Senator also expresses concern about shortages
in Customs personnel and resources leading to increased
drug smuggling in commercial cargo shipments
March 8, 2001
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today urged the Bush Administration to add resources along the U.S.-Mexico border to stem the growing number of stolen U.S. vehicles being easily transported to Mexico.
In addition to a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill urging additional U.S. Customs resources to target the problem, Senator Feinstein urged California Governor Gray Davis and Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States, Juan Jose Bremer Martino, to help develop a cooperative plan to halt the stolen vehicle traffic into Mexico and from Mexico into the United States.
The Customs Service, which is part of the Treasury Department, currently has alarms that are triggered when a stolen vehicle approaches the nation’s southern border, but in many cases the warnings are ignored by Customs officials because of lack of resources and infrastructure problems.
At the San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, and Calexico, California ports of entry, the location of the license plate reading machines are so close to the border that it makes it difficult to stop drivers before they cross into Mexico.
“The fact that Customs has the ability to identify vehicles wanted by law enforcement agencies as they are traveling on U.S. highways and does nothing to stop them is deplorable and unacceptable,” Senator Feinstein wrote in a letter Secretary O’Neill. “It is also a source of concern and considerable frustration by law enforcement authorities because criminals and stolen vehicles are being allowed free passage out of the country.”
Senator Feinstein requested that Secretary O’Neill explore giving Customs more resources to monitor the license plate readers around the clock -- when hits are registered on vehicles wanted by law enforcement – and that the Mexican authorities are then requested to intercept the cars. This system would also allow for reciprocal cooperation by U.S. authorities intercepting stolen vehicles from Mexico.
“I fully realize that implementing steps to resolve these matters will require additional personnel and equipment, which I am willing to support,” Senator Feinstein said. “The lack of adequate resources at the California-Mexico ports of entry by both U.S. customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been a chronic problem.”
“It also impacts their enforcement operations, cross-border trade, and efficient operation of ports of entry, according to Customs sources and others who are familiar with the operation of the ports,” said Senator Feinstein.
In that regard, Senator Feinstein pointed out the following:
- The smuggling of marijuana in trucks, as measured by the amounts seized at the Otay Mesa and Tecate commercial cargo inspection facilities increased by 155 percent in FY 2000, from 14,376 kilos seized in FY 1999 to 36,640 kilos confiscated in FY 2000. The number of marijuana seizures also increased from 32 to 59 during the same period.
- Although there are three truck x-ray machines at the Otay Mesa cargo facility, the lack of sufficient personnel has restricted operation to no more than one machine at any time, according to an official with the National Treasury Employees Union.
- The lack of sufficient Customs and INS personnel prevents staffing of all the vehicle inspection lanes at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa during the peak periods, which results in increased wait times for motorists and congestion at the ports of entry, in addition to jeopardizing the safety of inspection personnel and the public.
The letters from Senator Feinstein are available upon request.
SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Mexico - A sprawling junkyard on the edge of this Sonoran border town might seem like the last place to find a car stolen from the streets of Phoenix. But here they sit by the dozens.
There are 5,000 cars, trucks and vans in various states of disrepair, from gleaming new sports cars to bare chassis. About 200 were stolen in the United States, 40 to 50 of them in Arizona. One is a blue Nissan bearing three different vehicle identification numbers, which are supposed to be unique to each car.
Commander Jesus Zamora Orozco leads San Luis Rio Colorado's eight-man stolen-vehicles unit, which formed six months ago to return the stolen cars to owners.
Zamora's new team represents growing cross-border cooperation to stop criminal car-theft rings that have plagued border states for years and are expanding into other crimes.
Zamora, who has been investigating stolen cars for 12 years, figures 60 percent of them are used for crimes such as drug running and smuggling illegal immigrants. Then there are the fraud schemes and chop-shop rings.
"One thing that's changed in the last 10 years: People are not stealing cars any more just for the value of the car. They are stealing them for higher crimes," said Arizona Department of Public Safety Lt. Dan Mitchell, who runs the task force that works with Zamora's group and others to bust theft rings.
The vehicle-theft rings are widespread and sophisticated.
A $50,000 BMW from Phoenix was bought on the cheap from an unscrupulous Arizona dealer, smuggled across the border and declared stolen so that thieves could recover the full value from the insurance company. The dealer gets a cut from the insurance payoff.
The fraud scheme repeats itself routinely in this and every border town, police say.
In October, Zamora's team broke up a Guadalajara-based ring that stole Arizona and California cars, replaced the VINs and made fake ownership papers to conceal the true owners. The ring made the cars look like legitimate purchases.
"Our group is like a Band-Aid on a cancer. A lot of the cars stolen in the United States end up in Central America," he said. "There should be a network with national authorities to solve this."
Zamora and other border-town police get help from DPS' Arizona Vehicle Theft Task Force, known as the "Rattlers," which has six squads. With the aid of automatic license plate readers and year-old, direct radio communication with teams like Zamora's, 600 to 800 stolen Arizona vehicles end up back with their owners every year, the Rattlers estimate.
Police on each side of the border need each other. Mexican authorities have no way of checking registrations of vehicles with U.S. plates without calling Americans. Even with plate readers and automatic theft alerts, police in Arizona don't have time to intercept a stolen car before it slips over the border, so they rely on Mexican police to recover stolen cars and notify them.
Officials on both sides describe the relationship as very good and improving.
Mitchell says thieves take about 50,000 Arizona vehicles a year, and nearly two-thirds are returned to owners. Still, that leaves about 20,000 a year that disappear.
"No one knows how many we lose across the border. We know it's a lot. It's definitely thousands," Mitchell said.
In the past two years, the Rattlers noticed another trend. Some stolen cars never left the state but were positioned near the border for human smugglers to use.
In San Luis, Ariz., in the state's southwestern corner, police Capt. Javier Nuño watches over a border town of 15,000 people where 12 cars get lifted every month. Nuño says drug cartels place orders with thieves for specific types of vehicles. Toyota pickups are a favorite. The car thieves leave them in pre-arranged drop spots. Then "coyotes," returning to Mexico after leading immigrants across the border, drive the stolen cars south.
Once in Mexico, the smugglers hire or run mechanic shops to install secret compartments and disguise the origins of the stolen vehicles. With new VINs, phony title papers and cannibalized parts, it can be nearly impossible to find the true owners.
"They are very hard to identify. My guys are experts, and it took them two or three days to trace one vehicle," Mitchell said.
The cars may be used to smuggle drugs or immigrants back into the United States or are cut up into parts, with the parts installed in other cars or put on the underground market.
In Nogales, Sonora, police report that 978 cars were stolen in the past 12 months. About 44 percent were recovered, including 95 Arizona vehicles, but the rest were dismantled and the parts smuggled across the border for sale in the United States.
Arizona is historically at or near the top of the list for auto theft rates, and Phoenix last year ranked fourth in the nation, Mitchell said.
"It's a very difficult crime to combat. It's so pervasive, as is the need for stolen cars, so we'll never get to zero car thefts," he said. "The stolen car is used to facilitate just about every crime."