AUS Branch - Investigation of the Year
Nominations Deadline: May 12, 2023
NOMINATIONS CLOSE 12th MAY 2023
The Investigation of the Year award is open to any individual or team who has conducted an outstanding investigation involving the detection and prevention of auto crime. It is open to members of police forces, customs services, insurance investigators, private investigators, or anyone involved in vehicle theft investigations.
Submissions will be judged on their demonstration of any or all of the following criteria: innovative methodologies, application of best practice investigation techniques, the complexity of the investigation, and cooperation and involvement of multiple agencies to achieve a result in the fight against auto crime.
The investigation may involve the cooperation of international agencies but at least part of the investigation must have taken place in either Australia, New Zealand, or South East Asia during the last 3 years.
The winner will be announced at the 2023 Australasian Branch Conference in Sydney on 20-21 June 2023
For more details on the judging criteria, conditions, and how to nominate please download the documents on the following page 2023 Australasian Branch Investigation of the Year Awards - How to nominate
Click the ‘View’ button to see a list of winners of this award.
Operation Contract - Victoria Police, Vehicle Crime Squad
Team Members: Det. Sgt Michael Welsh, Det. Sgt. Matthew Graefe, Senior Sgt. Belinda Jones, Det Senior Const. Daniel Beard, Det Leading Senior Constable Brendan O'Mahoney
Operation Contract was an investigation undertaken by the Vehicle Crime Squad involving systematic organised crime relating to staged vehicle collisions, vehicle theft and finance fraud involving two co accused and many more in the automotive repair industry and Tow truck industry.
The initial two targets were a tow truck driver operator of panel beating business and the tow truck business owner who were believed to be involved in:
- Finance fraud
- Insurance fraud
- Theft of Motor Vehicle
In June 2017, 14 Search warrants were executed simultaneously across the Melbourne area utilising over 100 Victorian Police members including investigators, uniform and specialist units.
Warrants were executed at the following:
3 x Panel beating businesses
1 x rental car business
1 x Recovery agent business
9 x residential addresses
As a result of the search warrants over 5,000 items were seized including but not limited to;
- 14 luxury vehicles including Mercedes Benz C63's, Audi RS and a Maserati
- Stolen identities
- Documentation involved in major fraud
Further evidence indicated the involvement of Target 1 and Target 2 in fraudulent insurance claims. (Staged vehicle collisions)
From the evidence gained during the initial search warrants an extra 26 search warrants were executed including but not limited to;
- Law Firms
- Recovery agents
- Panel beaters
- Auction houses
In total 65 offenders were arrested and interviewed and aver 150 statements were taken. Statements were taken from a variety of people including witnesses, offenders, panel beaters, loss assessors and business owners.
Extensive evidence was obtained supporting finance and insurance fraud including but notlimited to the following;
- Targets committing finance fraud on luxury vehicles using stolen identities and sophisticated fraudulent documents.
- Fraudulent obtained vehicles are on sold, re-registered to multiple fake businesses or used as third party vehicles in multiple insurance claims.
- Targets actively recruiting members of the community with no criminal history to use their vehicles in staged collisions. Members of the community were being recruited from car yards and panel beating businesses. Targets were also heavily recruiting people from the security industry.
- Targets were being supplied stolen identities including drivers licence, Medicare cards and passports which they then use as third parties involved insurance collisions. Targets paying co-offenders to recruit members of the community and provide stolen identifications.
- Third party vehicles are often used in multiple collisions with recycled damage.
- Targets have dummy vehicles which are bought from auctions in a damaged state. The dummy vehicle's damage is photographed and sent to the assessor with the actual vehicle not being damaged at all.
- Collusion prior to the alleged collision between targets, third parties and insured parties.
- Evidence provided by forensic examination experts revealing vehicle damage not consistent with collision descriptions and in some cases were able to download vehicle data to show the vehicle was actually in revers at the time of the collision.
As a result of Operation Contract 21 vehicles were seized with a combined total value of 1.8 million dollars, the most expensive being a 2011 Aston Martin Vera 11.
30 offenders were charged with fraud related offences and summonsed to the Magistrates Court. A further 7 offenders were charged with fraud, Perjury and theft offences and were summoned to
the Melbourne County Court. Their court matters are still outstanding. The two targets were charged with a combined total of 80 charges with fraud related charges valued at $444,927.15 and
attempted fraud related charges valued at $1,319,712.20. Their court matters are still outstanding.
To this date over $100,000 has been repaid to insurance companies by insured drivers involved in the fraud with more to come with court cases still outstanding. This Operation was made possible by close liaison between Vehicle Crime squad, the Insurance Fraud Bureau and numerous insurance companies and insurance company investigators. As a result of this investigation a sophisticated highly organised criminal network was dismantled, deterring other potential criminal syndicates attempting to gain illicit wealth in the same manner. The investigation also discovers a distinctive Modus Operandi for this type of offending. The investigation identified a lack of regulation in the industry and presented its findings to the Insurance Fraud Bureau and it's stakeholders. The findings of this investigation will assist law enforcement and insurance agencies in identifying fraud and prosecuting further offending.
2018 Investigation of the Year
Sponsored by the Australasian Branch
Strike Force Wolf was an investigation into the organised and targeted theft of high performance motor vehicles by organised crime syndicates involved in homicides and other serious crimes.
In late 2016, Investigators from the News South Wales Police Force Motor Unit Squad were approached by investigators from the Homicide Squad in relation to a number of high profile murder investigations, where high performance motor vehicles were used in the commission of these and other serious crimes. Strike Force Wolf commenced in January 2017 by the Motor Unit, to investigate the organised targeted theft of high performance motor vehicles being used by organised crime syndicates in other serious crimes. Strike Force investigators conducted extensive enquires canvassing current and historical intelligence holdings of the NSWPF, other government agencies, reviewing current, high performance motor vehicle thefts, liaised with other investigators targeting known car theft syndicates and community sources. Strike Force investigators identified a criminal syndicate headed by the "KALAL" family. The KALAL's were directly involved in the acquisition and on selling of stolen, high performance motor vehicles to criminal groups/organised crime individuals, who in turn used these vehicles in the commission of serious crimes such as murders, drive by shootings and robberies.
Det. Sgt Michael BOURKE and DSC Nicholas SCOTT accepting the Investigation of the Year award from President Mark Pollard, on behalf of members of Strike Force Wolf – New South Wales Police
2017 IAATI Australasian Branch Investigation of the Year Award
Sponsored by James J Kerrigan and Associates
Received by Detective Senior Constable Luke Simpson, NSW Police from James Kerrigan, from Maurice J Kerrigan and Associates
2016 Investigation of the Year
Sponsored by Maurice J Kerrigan & Associates
2016 Awards Dinner - NSW Police Motor Unit with their two awards for the night - Investigation of the Year for Strike Force Granite and President's award for Police Initiative 'Refocuss'
2015 Investigation of the Year - Joint winners
Sponsored by Maurice J Kerrigan & Associates.
Strike Force O’Halloran commenced in February 2014 to investigate a particular individual and his associates within the organised theft and re-birthing of motor vehicles.
In January 2014, Victoria Police Stopped a NSW registered vehicle towing a trailer. Identification issues were discovered with the vehicle and the trailer displayed no registration. The engine number was from a stolen engine and the registration plates were fraudulent. The vehicle and trailer were seized for further examination.
The occupants of the vehicle were members of an OMCG. Information obtained from them was provided to NSW Police.
As a result of the information and ongoing investigations the police raided properties in St Marys, where 62 vehicles, a flat tray tow truck, two trucks, five boats and a boat trailer, twelve motor cycles, motor vehicle engines, several outboard motors, a jet ski, six firearms, two forklifts and a quantity of prohibited drugs were seized. Some of the vehicles were the subject of insurance claims.
The assessed value of the stolen vehicles was approximately $2,500,000. As with many investigations Strike Force O’Halloran was assisted by other government departments and agencies.
Joint winners of the 2015 Investgation of the Year - (L-R) Cathy Horton, Queensland Police (Operation Kilo Zurich), Australasian Branch President John Hambridge, and Luke Simpson, NSW Police (Strike Force O'Halloran),
2015 Investigation of the Year
Sponsored by Maurice J Kerrigan & Associates.
Operation Kilo Zurich commenced in 2013 to investigate suspected vehicle re-birthing and drug trafficking syndicates in the Gold Coast Districts of Queensland. During the investigation it was discovered that the primary target and others had formed a criminal syndicate to facilitate drug trafficking and vehicle re-birthing, which involved motor vehicles, caravans, vessels and trailers.
During the investigation it was also identified that members of the syndicates were employees of the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (DTMR), who were legitimising the stolen items with registrations and compliance processes.
The investigation was complex and extended across South East Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, involving the relevant Police Authorities, Crime and Corruption Commission, the Australian Federal Police, New Zealand Department of Transport, as well as other private enterprises to successfully bring the investigation to a closure.
During the investigation it was identified that an employee of DTMR was responsible for 32 fraudulent vehicle and vessel registration and 72 fraudulent licence transactions.
In total 49 offenders were charged with 247 offences, twelve of which were charged with 106 vehicle related offences. $1,021,386 worth of drugs seized, $16,188,000 in stolen property recovered. In addition to this $10,071,450 in criminal assets and proceeds were retained.
Joint winners of the 2015 Investgation of the Year - (L-R) Cathy Horton, Queensland Police (Operation Kilo Zurich), Australasian Branch President John Hambridge, and Luke Simpson, NSW Police (Strike Force O'Halloran),
2014 Investigation of the Year Award
Sponsored by Maurice J Kerrigan and Associate
2013 Investigation of the Year
Sponsored by Maurice J Kerrigan and Associates
The first award announced on the night was the Investigation of the Year, which was proudly sponsored this year by Maurice Kerrigan & Associates. Sponsor representative and member of the judging panel, Mr Francis Kerrigan, was on hand to announce the winner, a submission made by South Australia Police for Operation Echidna. The balance of the judging panel was made up by Ray Carroll of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, and Nigel Carson of KordaMentha. Detective Senior Constable First Class Jason COX, a member of the Operation Echidna team accepted the award on behalf of his team for their investigation of a sophisticated and highly organised network of criminals who were responsible for the theft of over $2m in highly desirable vehicle parts.
As the matter is currently before the courts, full details of the case cannot be published, however the methodical investigative planning and well executed investigative techniques, liaison with multiple stakeholders and using knowledge gained through membership of IAATI, Operation Echidna has resulted in charges of theft, larceny and money laundering to be laid against seven individuals. All the members of Operation Echidna are to be congratulated for their efforts in the detection and prevention of auto crime.
Detective Detective Senior Constable First Class Jason Cox, a member of the Operation Echidna team accepts the Investigation Year award for South Australia Police.
2012 Investigation of the Year
The honour of the Investigation of the Year Award this year went to NSW Police Property Crime Squad – Strike Force Burindi. This award recognised the team's outstanding work in detecting and
breaking a network of organised motor vehicle re-birthing operating in the Sydney Metro area. As part of a strategic surveillance operation, Strike Force Burindi identified a target location suspected
to be involved in motor vehicle theft and obtained and executed a search warrant. The outcome of that warrant led to the recovery of over 1,000 exhibits of stolen property – vehicles in various state of dismantling, tyres, parts. This discovery led to the identification of further individuals and businesses involved in being sent overseas, and the identification of a relatively new modus operandi of the network.
Through inter-agency co-operation, Strike Force Burindi were able to achieve a fantastic result, and make multiple charges relating to auto crime against four individuals, as well as disrupting a highly active vehicle crime network.
Many thanks to the judges who helped determine the winner of this year’s Investigation of the Year - Ray Carroll (Executive Director National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council); Brett Florence (Detective Senior Constable, Victoria Police, Organised Motor Vehicle Theft Unit); and Allan Bewley (Senior Policy Officer, South Australia Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure).
International President Heidi Jordan with members of NSW Police Strike Force Burindi
2011 Investigation of the Year
Winner: Strike Force Oliveri – New South Wales Police Force
This year’s winning nomination for the Investigation of the Year Award relates to an investigation into a Middle Eastern crime family involved in vehicle rebirthing.
During June 2008 two members of a Middle Eastern Crime Family presented two Toyota Hilux SR model vehicles for inspection at the RTA Vehicle Identification and Inspection Unit. Both cars were repairable Write offs. In September 2008 a Senior RTA VIIU Vehicle Examiner was checking the internet Used Car Websites and found details of the two Hilux’s that were presented in June. However they were being advertised as SR5 upgraded models in immaculate condition. As a result of this the Examiner recalled the vehicles for a second inspection.
During early October one vehicle was presented for a second inspection and it did not have all the upgrade parts fitted as seen when advertised for sale and shown on the internet. In late October Police seized the vehicle. At this point the vehicle was fitted with all the upgraded SR5 parts. The examination confirmed that the suspect vehicle was actually stolen during August 2008 and was re-indentified as the Repairable Write off Hilux SR model that was inspected during June 2008.
On the 28th October the second vehicle was presented for inspection. Again it was presented as a base model. However police surveillance on the owner’s property identified that the car seen at the property looked different to the one presented for inspection. Further enquiries confirmed this car was advertised for sale as an SR5 model.
Given the concerns identified a strike force was established to investigate the involvement of two Middle Eastern families in the rebirthing of Toyota Hilux vehicles. The following are key points of the investigation:
- Examination of Registration and Stolen motor vehicle data that was sourced from the RTA and NMVTRC identified 837 stolen Toyota Hilux vehicles between January 2007 and May 2008. When examined against the registration history of the persons of interest, it confirmed that they had registered 62 Hilux’s during the same period. All 62 cars were presented as repairable write offs.
- Other issues identified were the documents they used to substantiate repairs and parts purchases. In some instances the same documents were used against multiple cars.
- 40 cars were purchased and repaired by businesses owned by the families of interest.
In June 2009 investigators pursued two simultaneous strategies; the first was to use covert evidence gathering techniques on the family involved and their smash repair business.
The second was to conduct forensic examinations on vehicles that had been sold interstate. In September 2009 Recall notices were posted to the owners of the vehicles sold in NSW. Again these vehicles were examined. The examination of the vehicles confirmed that on most vehicles the Chassis numbers were changed and that many Hilux’s had been upgraded from SR models to SR5 specifications using stolen parts.
Of further concern were the poor repairs carried out on the cars which resulted in 24 vehicles being issued with major defect notices.
Search warrants were obtained and executed in November 2009. A large amount of property was seized including:
- 12 Motor vehicles
- Documents relating to the sale of vehicles, and
- $120,000 cash
During the search a further 9 suspected rebirth vehicles were seized including a Mazda 3 upgraded to a SP23 using stolen parts. This was one of the most successful investigations into Motor Vehicle Theft in New South Wales in recent times.
- 8 offenders were arrested with a total of 31 charges
- 85 Vehicles of interest were identified
In monetary value these offenders were earning around $20,000 per car estimated at an overall profit of around $1m.
L-R: International 2nd Vice President, John O’Byrne, Suncorp Insurance, Acting Executive Manager Mr Chris Loane, Detective Senior Constable Julian Thornton, Detective Superintendent Greig Newbery from NSW Police, and International IAATI President Mr Chris McDonold
2010 Investigation of the Year
During January 2009 Police Intelligence identified that a large number of Toyota Hiace Vans were being stolen with a very low recovery rate. Over a 12 month period in one district 267 vehicles were stolen and only 14% were recovered. The value of the vehicles stolen was around $1.3m.
An assessment of national and international trends identified the following possible causes for these thefts –
- That Organised Criminal Groups were stealing these cars and shipping overseas, or
- That the cars were being stripped and sold as spare parts or again shipped overseas as parts, or
- That the vehicles were being ‘rebirthed’
The team that was formed to investigate these thefts identified 8 car wreckers as properties of interest. The police together with Customs and Immigration officers used mobile and static surveillance on the persons and properties of interest.
As a result of the information obtained from Surveillance, covert cameras were installed on two locations. This quickly identified the scale of the crime. One offender had 8 stolen Hiace’s driven to his location within a 4 week period.
The cars were stripped and the parts were sold to Parts recyclers operated by Middle Eastern offenders who were transporting these parts in shipping containers to the Middle East. Search warrants were executed on seven Parts Recyclers. Four Shipping Containers destined to the Middle East were also seized. Detectives pieced together cut up registration plates, Chassis and VIN tags at one property which identified 83 Hiace Vans.
Overall this investigation led to;
- 12 Offenders being arrested with over 400 criminal charges laid
- 127 vehicles identified as stolen with a value of $690,000.00
- Firearms, drugs and cash were also seized.
Three offenders have already been sentenced to terms of imprisonment whilst nine are still before the courts and the theft rate of Toyota Hiace’s has decreased by 54% as a result of this operation.
L - R: Suncorp Insurance’s Executive Manager Mr Jason McCracken congratulates Investigation of the Year award winner Detective Sergeant Callum McNeill from Auckland City Police.
2009 Investigation of the Year
The winner of the Investigation of the Year Award was the New South Wales Police Force's Strike Force Deeble.
The New South Wales Police Strike Force Deeble’ employed new techniques to assist with the investigation. The investigation was into two interconnected criminal groups who were involved in vehicle theft, stripping of parts, repairing economically Written Off cars, using false receipts, providing false receipts, using stolen parts and the sale of the re-birthed cars.
This Strike Force worked closely with the Roads and Traffic Authority, Victoria Police, South Australia Police, Insurers and Department of Fair Trading. It also utilised new legislation to assist the investigation such as –
- Controlled operations authority – allowing investigators to trespass and affix DataDots to stolen car parts so that they can be tracked in the future,
- Named Persons Warrant under the new Surveillance Devices Legislation
- And the use of tainted property freezing notices – allowing them to seize cars that have been purchased using proceeds of a crime or purchased for the purpose of rebirthing.
This investigation resulted in 9 offenders charged with 35 offences and seized multiple car parts, 8 vehicles and 1 Jet Ski. It also identified assets in excess of $1m which are now subject to confiscation proceedings. It is the first re-birthing investigation to charge offenders with the ‘Participate in Criminal Groups’ offence and to instigate Asset Confiscation proceedings.
Australasian Branch Vice President and Chair of the 2009 Awards Committee, Harry Rakintzis presents the 2009 Investigation of the Year Award to Det. Sgt. Frank Schreuder, NSW Police
2008 Investigation of the Year Award
Winner: Strike Force Olympian, Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, State Crime Command, NSW Police Force
Accepted by: Detective Senior Constable Bryan MATTHES
Sponsored by: Insurance Australia Group (IAG)
Strike Force Olympian was formed in January 2007, as a result of sustained intelligence regarding the vehicle rebirthing activities of a number of members of the Middle Eastern Organised Crime community.
Intelligence was received regarding a syndicate that was intimately involved in the wrecking industry, as well as being responsible for organising and executing the theft and clinical stripping of motor vehicles. The syndicate was large, well established and professional, and were stealing vehicles predominantly from the eastern suburbs of Sydney, and dumping the clinically stripped wrecks in the south west of Sydney.
Strike Force Olympian was formed by the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad (MEOCS), the New South Wales Police Force. The Strike Force was commanded and resourced by MEOCS, with additional investigators being sourced from a variety of commands from the south western Sydney area.
The Strike Force commenced on 14 January 2007. Following an initial intelligence gathering period, the investigation simultaneously targeted every step in the motor vehicle rebirthing process, as described in further detail below. The major arrest phase was conducted on 19 July 2007, when the car theft syndicate was dismantled. Investigations and further arrests of offenders continued until December 2007, briefs of evidence are still being compiled against the offenders identified by the Strike Force.
One of the highlights of this investigation was the cooperation of numerous Government, private sector and law enforcement agencies.
Significant intelligence was contributed by different agencies in both the early stages of the operation and during it’s execution. Intelligence was provided to the Strike Force by the Tow Truck Authority of NSW (TTA), the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), the Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Authority (MVRIA) and the Motor Squad of the Victorian Police. Such intelligence related to both the criminal subjects of the investigation, as well as the assorted personnel and organisations that were encountered during the investigation.
In addition to intelligence, non-police agencies assisted the investigation by providing resources, both in manpower and various physical resources to the Strike Force. The Insurance Australia Group (lAG) provided vehicle wrecks and parts for a variety of purposes. DataDot Technology Australia provided resources and equipment to the Strike Force, as described in detail below. The Department of Fair Trading (DFT) executed strategic business inspections that assisted investigators objectives, and provided valuable expertise in specialist areas. The analytical work and intelligence provided by the NSW Crime Commission was crucial to the Strike Force from inception to conclusion.
The interstate operations of the target group saw cooperation between the NSW, Queensland and Victorian Police Forces. A number of the Strike Force targets were intercepted and arrested by Queensland Police outside Bundaberg Queensland, as a result of electronic surveillance conducted in NSW. Similarly, the Victoria Police Motor Squad contributed significant intelligence holdings regarding the interstate operations of the target group.
Innovative Investigation Techniques
In light of amendments to the NSW Crimes Act during 2006, creating a specific offence for the act of vehicle rebirthing, there was significant opportunity for innovation to traditional methodology of investigating vehicle theft and rebirthing.
During the course of the investigation, Police were used to infiltrated the motor vehicle industry, and obtain evidence and intelligence in relation to the methodology of the targets. Police were able to monitor and observe the production and sale of false invoices and documentation. These documents were being sold to vehicle rebirthers by smash repairers, allowing the rebirthers to legitimise stolen parts contained within vehicles. These documents were subsequently produced to the RTA during inspection of the repaired wrecks prior to registration.
Police were also used to purchase rebirthed motor vehicles from the Strike Force targets, allowing investigators to establish evidence of the entire rebirthing process, from the theft of the initial vehicles, through to the disposal of the parts attached to the rebirthed vehicle.
Investigators used DataDot technology to track a variety of vehicle parts during the investigation. Intelligence indicated that some of the targets would steal and strip the vehicles, then later purchase the same clinically stripped wreck through the motor vehicle auction systems, before affixing stolen parts and presenting for registration. DataDot Technology (Aust) provided investigators with the resources and equipment that allowed them to identify wrecks, affix Datadot identification, and then thereby track these wrecks through the rebirthing process.
Following the identification of a crew of professional car thieves, extensive use was made of physical and electronic surveillance in order to monitor the thieves movements and activities. In this way, investigators were able to gather evidence of the conversations in which the crew took orders for particular makes and models of vehicles to be stolen and delivered. In some cases, three separate vehicles would be ordered and stolen in a single night. Physical surveillance was conducted while the thieves made their reconnaissance of the eastern beaches area, locating and surveilling the vehicles they were seeking. Observations were made of the theft of the vehicle and it was observed driven back to south west Sydney.
Through electronic and physical surveillance, investigators established the location of the premises where stolen vehicles were being delivered. Again electronic and physical surveillance was conducted, and captured video footage of stolen vehicles being delivered to the premises, and car parts being taken out of the premises the following day. Aerial photographs of the premises were taken for further intelligence purposes.
Size of the Investigation
Strike Force Olympian quickly developed into an extremely large and complex investigation. The Strike Force targeted the stolen motor vehicle industry at all levels, in addition to implementing traditional methods of investigating motor vehicle rebirthing. The car thieves themselves were identified and closely monitored. The chop shops were under constant video surveillance. The Wreckers were investigated in relation to the provision of receipts and the trade in stolen vehicles parts. Panel Beating businesses and smash repairers were inspected at strategic times and places to generate intelligence and evidence. Overt inspections and patrols were conducted at certain limes and places to complement the covert investigations.
Strike Force targets were found to be regularly presenting repaired wrecks at the RTA Vehicle Inspection Unit, in order to have them registered in NSW. In many cases this involved the production of false receipts, or the later substitution of stolen parts, and was often conducted through friends and family of the offenders. With the co-operation of the RTA, these inspections were covertly monitored, and the vehicles and offenders were subsequently surveilled to premises and businesses that were found to be intimately involved in the rebirthing process.
Similarly, it was established that rebirthed vehicles, or vehicles with stolen parts affixed were being disposed of through channels such as the Trading Post Such sales often occurred to innocent third parties. This activity was also monitored throughout the investigation, and showed the final step in the rebirthing process, from theft through to disposal.
The complexity and size of the operation was typified during the arrest phase executed on 19 July 2007. On this day, over 90 investigators and numerous support police NSW Police gathered at Police Headquarters in Parramatta for a pre-dawn briefing, along with staff from the RTA and DFT. At first light, the Strike Force executed simultaneous search warrants at 10 locations throughout south western Sydney.
This arrest phase concluded the “car thief chapter” of the investigation, and alone saw the arrest of 6 offenders the laying of over 50 charges. 18 stolen vehicles were located and seized, and two 40 foot shipping containers were required to store the volume of stolen and suspected stolen vehicle parts seized during the search warrants.
Strike Force Olympian resulted in 13 offenders being charged with 126 offences. Charges were laid for offences including facilitating motor vehicle rebirthing, stealing motor vehicles, receiving stolen motor vehicles, dealing with the proceeds of crime, possession of firearms, and the production of dangerous drugs.
The majority of these matters are yet to be finalised, as a result of the size and complexity of the briefs of evidence supplied by the Strike Force investigative team. Encouragingly, the recent conviction of one offender for two counts of car theft saw compensation awarded to both victims and the relevant insurance company.
Immediately following the arrests on 19 July 2007, Rosehill Local Area Command experienced a significant and sustained drop in the number of stolen vehicles located within their command. 27 stolen vehicles were located during August 2007, a total down from a previous high of 59 in March.
Strike Force Olympian generated 56 intelligence reports relating primarily to the stealing and rebirthing of motor vehicles, as well as the offenders and locations involved. In addition, intelligence has been gathered regarding the methodologies used by criminals at all levels of the rebirthing industry. This includes tools used by professional car thieves, methods of stripping vehicles of identifiers and disposing of parts, through to manners for fraudulently accounting for stolen parts, and channels through which rebirthed vehicles are sold to innocent buyers.
Accepting the award on behalf of his colleagues was Detective Senior Constable Bryan MATTHES.
Detective Senior Constable MATTHES has a long association with IAATI by virtue of his work as a licensed panel-beater. He was a member of the former NSW Police Motor Squad, and after leaving the Police, he operated panel-shops in southern Sydney for a number of years. He returned to the NSW Police in 2003, and in January 2007, he was appointed Officer in Charge of Strike Force Olympian.
The conduct of this investigation was a formidable task, made more difficult by the fact that Detective MATTHES was the only member of the entire Strike Force with experience in motor vehicle crime. In addition to the demanding role of running an investigation of this size and complexity, Detective MATTHES planned and conducted both formal and informal training for Strike Force members, to provide them with the specialist knowledge necessary to conduct this investigation.
Detective MATTHES association with IAATI proved invaluable to the Strike Force, as the network of specialists and organisations was crucial to the investigation, and called upon regularly. He returned from the 2007 IAATI conference in Melbourne with a variety of new ideas and contacts, both of which were important to the success of the Strike Force. Detective MATTHES planned and executed the recovery of 20 stolen vehicles during the investigation, and co-ordinated the involvement of over 100 personnel from a variety of agencies, during the closure of the “car thief chapter”.
Det. Sen. Const. Bryan Matthes
2006 Investigation of the Year
The award for IAATI Investigation of the Year is provided not on the volume or value of stolen vehicles seized, but rather on the innovation and long-term impact that may result from enquiries made.
Judges this year were asked to consider the following criteria:
- Reduction in vehicle crime;
- Efficiency in light of available resources and sustainability / long-term impact;
- Innovation demonstrated by investigators;
- Increased information and / or intelligence for MVT stakeholders;
- Strategic solutions implemented (eg. legislative, administrative, training etc.); and / or
- Elements of “best practice” in the investigation or initiatives.
Winner of the 2005 IAATI Investigation of the Year Award: Jeff Haynes (Waitakere CIB, NZ Police)
The 2006 IAATI Investigation of the Year is sponsored by IAG. This investigation was conducted by a police officer that has exceptional skills in Vehicle theft investigations. Since 2003 he has been responsible for the recovery of 267 vehicles, valued at around 2.8 million dollars and resulting in the identification of around 70% of offenders.
In November 2004 Senior Constable Jeffrey Haynes was contacted by VTNZ in relation to Toyota Surf. After inspecting the vehicle it was confirmed that the chassis number had been welded into the firewall and chassis rails.
L-R: Lisa Young (Branch Vice President), Jeff Haynes (NZ Police), Harry Rakintzis (Branch Vice President)
He then identified the owner of the vehicle and conducted background searches on all the vehicles owned and sold by this person. As a result another Toyota Surf was identified that had been altered in similar fashion. A search warrant was executed on the suspect’s factory in Helensville where upon attendance the suspect was caught swapping the body of a stolen 2002 Hilux onto the chassis of a damaged Toyota.
As a result of this investigation 14 stolen cars were identified with a value of $474,000. The suspect denied stealing any of these cars but admitted to receiving them. He has been charged with 23 offences.
In addition to the winner, three Certificates of Recognition were presented in the Investigation of the Year category. They included:
Certificate of Merit: Mark Bennedick
The first Certificate of Merit in this category goes to a private investigator based in Queensland. In 2004, Mark Bennedick was contracted by Maurice Kerrigan & Associates to investigate the theft of an 11 day old Holden Monaro.
The vehicle was recovered as a total loss after being involved in a single vehicle accident in the early hours of the morning. While Police inspecting the vehicle noted that the vehicle contained a number of personal effects including the Insured’s wallet containing his credit cards, driver’s license and cash, no further enquiries were made by law enforcement.
Insurance enquiries were referred to Mark Bennedick, who observed that the vehicle did not appear to have sustained ignition damage, and the Insured was later able to produce both sets of keys.
The evidence obtained by Bennedick was not disputed by the Insured, and the claim for $70,000 was successfully refused. Moreover, the dispute resolution process was not triggered at any time.
Maurice Kerrigan & Associates attribute much of the success of this investigation to a reliance on information, knowledge and skills Mark Bennedick learned via IAATI training seminars.
Certificate of Merit: Detective Keith Schmidt (QPOL) & NRMA Insurance
The next certificate has been issued to a joint investigation between QLD police and NRMA Insurance Investigations. Coralea Cameron from NRMA Insurance managed an investigation into a stolen 1997 Toyota Troopcarrier station wagon. This vehicle was allegedly stolen from Coogee Beach, NSW.
The NRMA customer claimed that he purchased the vehicle from a person known as Brian Jackson who attended the caryard owned by the offender’s brother. ‘Jackson’ was allegedly returning to the UK and wanted to sell the vehicle. He also stated that the vehicle has travelled around Australia and was fully reconditioned.
After receiving documents and carrying out enquiries with the offender Corelea identified numerous concerns. A major concern was that Jackson had purchased a 1997 Landcruiser from Fowles Auction 2 months prior to the theft. Thiess Mining previously owned the car and these vehicles are generally known to be in poor condition. Another concern was the purchase price of $12000 against the price nominated by the offender $35,000. NRMA also identified a previous vehicle that was stolen from the offender. The purchase details were very similar except the person who sold the car was a Brian Harrison.
As a result of this the file was referred by John O’Byrne to Keith Schmidt of QLDPOL. Keith’s investigation identified the following:
The offender had purchased numerous cars from Auction yards under false names. These cars were then transferred into the name of the caryard.
A warrant executed on the caryard found the windscreen of the stolen car.
Photos of the stolen vehicle supplied to NRMA depicted a 78 series Landcruiser whereas the vehicle should have been a 75 series.
The offender was charged for the deception against Suncorp and NRMA. As a result he pleaded guilty and agreed to pay back $11,000 to Suncorp and received 6 months suspended sentence and a $20,000 fine for the NRMA fraud. The judge made a point that the $20,000 would have been the profit margin of the claim.
Certificate of Merit: Operation MECCANO – NZ Police
Beginning with informant information, the next Certificate of Merit goes to a member of NZ Police following successful enquiries into the ringing (or rebirthing) of stolen Toyota Hilux vehicles in the Bay of Plenty.
The information described the extensive rebirthing of 4WDs by a number of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs including the Murupara Tribesman, Filthy Few Motorcycle Gang and others. The central figure was a commercial 4WD wrecker.
The Detective expanded the initial information to identify further wholesale offending down in Christchurch and Blenheim of the South Island. Much of the enquiry work was quite painstaking and required much attention to detail in the locating and analysis of computer records.
Enquiries also required assistance from numerous outside agencies, which included a strong working relationship with Toyota.
After many months of painstaking work, the key target was prosecuted with 27 offences including receiving vehicles and fraudulently altering vehicles that were sold to unsuspecting buyers for profit. IN April 2005, the target WALLS received 2 years imprisonment and reparation in excess of $56,000 payable to insurers. WALLS secondhand dealers licence was also revoked.
The fun continues….since the Proceeds of Crime Unit have a restraining order over WALLS house and farm, and the unsuspecting buyers have taken civil action that could cost between $60 to $70K.
2005 Investigation of the Year
This year, the Investigation of the Year was awarded to Queensland Police for Operation COPRA. This operation consisted of an investigation into the fraudulent issue of more than 6,000 vehicle safety certificates. In July 2003, Queensland Transport notified Queensland Police that an approved inspection station had obtained a number of safety certificate books in a suspect manner. Checks on the station as listed indicated that it was not at the nominated address.
Serious safety concerns resulted in the recall of all 6,000 vehicles issued with certificates from this station. Queensland Police estimate that the total profit obtained by two key targets was in the order of AUS $120,000.
To date, 180 individuals have been charged with a total of 1,642 offences, and some 700 of the vehicles recalled were considered unroadworthy.
2004 Investigation of the Year
Four members of Queensland Police Operation Bravo Mattock, accepting their Investigation of the year Award during the 2004 Seminar from Paul Thomas Branch President (far left) and Mark Higgins
2003 Investigation of the Year
Winner: Strike Force Worth, NSW Police Service
Accepting the award is Acting Detective Inspector John Alt, Strike Force Worth. Also present representing Strike Force Worth is Det Sgt Dave Casserly and Det Sgt Scott Davis
Also recognise those agencies who assisted the NSW Police in Strike Force Worth:
- Australian Federal Police
- NSW Roads & Traffic Authority (Allan Beddall)
- NSW Crime Commission
- NSW Dept. of Fair Trading
- Australian Customs Service
Strike Force Worth is an ongoing investigation into the theft, resale and exportation of stolen vehicles across Australia and internationally. It’s highlights include:
- Joint operation coordinated by NSW Police State Crime Command and involving support and co-operation of Australian Customs, Australian Federal Police, NSW Crime Commission, the NSW Road and Traffic Authority and the NSW Department of Fair Trading
- Apprehension of two major syndicates involved in the theft, resale and transportation of stolen vehicles throughout Australia and to the Middle East.
- In August 450 police officers were involved in simultaneous execution of 23 search warrants across Sydney, and at present 14 individuals have been arrested and charges.
- At total of 60 stolen vehicles have been recovered along with a large number of vehicle engines and parts and other stolen property.
- The NSW Department of Fair Trading has suspended trading licences of seven businesses and the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority has identified a further 10 vehicles through examination of blue slip books
- Through liaison with the Australian Federal Police and their Middle East Officer, a major principle of one of the syndicates has been arrested in Lebanon and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment .
- Restraining orders have been placed on approximately $2 million in assets by the NSW Crime Commission and are now subject to assets confiscation proceedings.
In addressing the audience Major Kent Mawyer, from the Criminal Law Enforcement Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety and International President of IAATI said, “the annual Australasian Awards seek to recognise and reward outstanding achievement, innovation, or exception performance in the area of vehicle theft prevention and investigation within Australia and New Zealand.”
The 2003 Award for ‘Vehicle Theft Investigation of the Year’ was awarded to Strike Force Worth, an ongoing investigation into the theft, resale and exportation of stolen vehicles across Australia and internationally. Accepting the award on behalf of the Strike Force Worth Team, Detective Acting Inspector Jon Alt of the NSW Police said “Strike Force Worth, involved 30 officers in a joint operation with the NSW Police State Crime Command, Australian Customs, the Australian Federal Police, the NSW Crime Commission, the NSW Road and Traffic Authority and the NSW Department of Fair Trading.”
Strike Force Worth has uncovered two syndicates which are allegedly involved in the theft and resale of stolen vehicles, the export of stolen vehicles to the Middle East, as well as a number of fraudulent insurance claims for staged motor vehicle collisions or inflated quotes for legitimate accidents.
When presenting the award Ms Nola Watson, Head of Fraud & Security Risk, Insurance Australia Group, commented the benefits of this type of operation are greater than simply the recovery of the stolen vehicles and the apprehension of the alleged offenders, noting “Strike Force Worth has also resulted in the seizure of large amounts of offender’s property, rending it difficult for them to recommence their operations. Furthermore, it has provided large amounts of intelligence relating to the methodologies and networks used by offenders, which is disseminated to relevant agencies.”
John Alt, NSW Police, receives the Investigation of the Year Award from Nola Watson, IAG
In this award category we have decided that in addition to the winner we will also award one certificate of merit.
The certificate of merit is awarded to Det, Sgt. Dennis Connor, Drugs and Organised Crime Investigation Branch, SA Police Service. Dennis has had the responsibility for the investigation of professional vehicle theft in South Australia for a number of years. The criteria for such investigations to be forwarded to the DOCIB is not only that the offences are carried out by organised criminal groups but they are of a complex nature requiring a professional team approach. In particular Dennis was nominated for his efforts in leading the following investigations: Operation Vent, Operation Quantum, Operation Calais and Operation Castle.
2001 Investigation of the Year Award
New South Wales Northern Beach police were last nigh announced as recipients of a prestigious award for “Australasian Vehicle Theft Investigation of the Year”.
The award issued by the Australasian Branch of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI) was announced at the Association’s annual conference in Melbourne last night. In announcing the winner Australasian IAATI President, Mr. John O’Byrne, praised the efforts of the officers involved in Strike Force RIFT for their team work and diligence throughout the investigation. “This was an exceptionally difficult investigation requiring a great deal of team work and co-operation, not only amongst the 10 officers from the Northern Beaches area but also with staff from Customs, Federal Department of Road Safety, RTA, Insurance companies and BMW Australia.”
Strike Force RIFT commenced in January 2000 and uncovered a complex tangle of offenders using false identities to ‘re-birth’ stolen vehicles. In addition to arresting the principals of the illegal operation the team of investigators achieved the following:
- Nine alleged offenders arrested, charged and linked to organised crime involving stolen vehicles;
- 35 stolen vehicles recovered worth an estimated $1.8 million dollars (including BMW 518I , BMW Roadstar, Mercedes ML320, Ford XR6, Alfa Romero Spider Coupe, Series 8 BMW, Holden VS Commodores, Subaru Impreza WRX, etc.);
- Identified and reported to relevant authorities an importation scam involving luxury vehicles from Japan.
2000 Investigation of the Year
Winner of the Investigation of the Year award was Senior Constable Peter McKenzie of the Physical Evidence Branch of the South Australian Police Service. In presenting the award Australasian Branch Presidnet, Mr. Tony Ward congratulated Senior Constable McKenzie for his diligence in cracking a professional re-birthing ring. By utilising microscopic differences in tool marks on vehicles he was able to establish a common relationship between each of the vehicles. The work, part of Operation Ferry, helped identify and recover 18 stolen and re-birthed vehicles.