Gangs slip away with 40 cars from auto dealer overflow lot at former Torrance Costco site – The Daily Breeze
Some of the stolen cars have been used in crimes, according to authorities. Dec. 23, 2016. (Chuck Bennett/Daily Breeze/SCNG)
The cars started disappearing about six weeks ago. Nobody noticed at first.
With more than 500 cars stored at the same Torrance location, it took a while for anybody to realize the inventory was slowly slipping away.
“They thought it was easy pickins,” said Barry Wishengrad, managing general partner of Infiniti of South Bay and Nissan of South Bay. “It kind of was for awhile.
Gang members targeted some 40 Infiniti and Nissan models for theft shortly after Wishengrad’s business leased the parking lot at the former Costco store on Skypark Drive to store new cars. Without enough room at their South Bay dealerships, managers used the lot to keep cars ready for customers requesting particular colors and models not available in their showrooms.
Each car had a lockbox containing its keys. When no one was looking, reputed gang members pried the lock boxes open, took the keys and drove away in the unregistered cars, a few at a time.
“It made it very difficult to notice,” Wishengrad said.
The problem came to light recently when Redondo Beach police chased an Infiniti from Redondo Beach to Torrance, where officers captured a man and woman with guns and drugs in their car. The car was determined to belong to Infiniti of South Bay, and “the girl from what I understand was very vocal on not wanting to go to jail,” Wishengrad said.
“When that first happened, we didn’t realize the problem,” he said. An inventory took a week to 10 days.
Wishengrad said the discovery of just how many cars were gone shocked and frustrated him.
“I was upset,” Wishengrad said. “I’m trying to run a business and I’ve got thieves stealing my cars.”
Torrance and Redondo Beach police officers opened an investigation. To date, detectives and other police agencies have recovered about 25 cars and arrested 15 suspects, Watt said.
“They are using them as getaway vehicles after committing other crimes,” Watt said. “Some are being stripped down for parts and some are just being used for joyriding.”
Thieves also have sold the stolen cars at low prices to other criminals, Watt said.
Since the theft discovery, Wishengrad said he has instituted stronger security measures at the lot, including armed guards. He declined to disclose other measures taken. His employees are also taking inventory once a week, instead of once a month.
Wishengrad has not tallied the financial loss. An Inifiniti costs about $45,000. His cars were insured, but with policy deductibles, he said he was not sure what he can claim.
Recovered cars in good shape will still be sold, he said.
Wishengrad credited Redondo Beach and Torrance officers with curbing the problem, which is nearly gone.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “They’ve been helping us. They been returning the cars back to us.”