Investigator Chris Paris with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who is assigned to the San Diego Regional Auto Theft Task Force, will be honored with the ARA Insurance/National Equipment Register (NER) Award during the NER Law Enforcement Training on Feb. 14, 2023, at The ARA Show™ in Orlando.
This 27-year law enforcement veteran not only recovered more than 20 pieces of rented construction equipment — skid steers and trailers — but he also broke up a Chicago-based organized crime ring that was operating primarily in California’s San Diego and Los Angeles counties as well as in Arizona.
Paris was assigned to the case after an innocent purchaser of a skid steer contacted the San Diego County Sheriff ’s Department.
“This gentleman has a construction business. He didn’t know the equipment was stolen at the time of the purchase. When he took it home, he noticed that some stickers had been removed. He started doing some research and found out that the machine he purchased had been rented from Home Depot. He contacted the sheriff ’s office and told them he thought had he inadvertently bought a stolen skid steer,” Paris says.
“The innocent purchaser told me that the suspects offered to sell additional machines. So, within two days, I set up an undercover deal to meet with these suspects to buy two more machines from them. However, the deal fell through,” Paris says.
He kept monitoring the Facebook account used by some of the suspects. “I found out that they rented other machines, and I was able to recover a machine before they sold it. I then set up another sting. I had been working with Home Depot throughout the investigation. We had Home Depot deliver the machine and conducted surveillance. Again, they didn’t show up,” Paris says.
Deeply frustrated, he kept trying. The theft ring then moved its fraudulent rental-theft-scheme to Los Angeles County. He tried to conduct several more undercover operations, but they were not successful either.
As he kept monitoring the situation, Paris learned that the theft ring had initially used Home Depot’s VIP service. “They would go online, rent the equipment — many times using their Chicago IDs — and have the equipment delivered. They would post the machine on Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp and then sell it right at the spot where it was dropped off,” Paris adds.
After some rentals were being denied via the online route, the theft ring changed tactics and began going into the stores to rent the equipment. “A lot of times they used female accomplices to rent the machines. Some of the group went in themselves, used their Chicago driver’s licenses and rented these machines. They would rent a truck, get the machine and take the trailer with it. Sometimes they used their real IDs. Other times they used fake IDs,” Paris says.
According to Paris, the theft ring used a lot of fake accounts and female accomplices to post ads on these social media sites. “When they met with someone to purchase the machine, they would use a fake ID,” he says.
Paris finally received a break in the case.
“They came back to San Diego. They put up a couple of machines in San Diego on an account I knew was involved in the other cases and created another account on OfferUp at the same time. I messaged one of the accounts to set up a deal. At the same time, I had one of my partners go undercover to contact one of the suspects. This was my last stance. It had been months. I was so frustrated that I hadn’t gotten them before now. I had done a lot of work up until that point — search warrants and such — but those efforts hadn’t paid off,” he says.
Paris then called Home Depot and asked if any people from Chicago had rented machines. “I found that four different machines were rented at four different stores in the last two days. I happened to find where the machines and trailers were at — in the parking lot of a Motel 6. We at the Regional Auto Theft Task Force set up surveillance. I saw one of my suspects, along with four other people. We set the deal up and had enough probable cause to arrest them. Right before we were going to swoop into the parking lot, they got into two cars and took off. We followed them, were able to have some additional San Diego units help us make a traffic stop, stopped them and arrested all of them right then — five people in two vehicles,” he says.
Search warrants were obtained for the motel rooms and the suspects’ phones, which provided even more information on the group’s activities, including the location of a storage yard in Santa Clarita, Calif., the suspects had been using to store additional fraudulently rented equipment.
As Sgt. Karie Mendoza, Orange County Auto Theft Task Force/ California Highway Patrol, Orange, Calif., stated in her nomination of Paris: “This case resulted in recovering more than 20 skid steers and trailers. Investigator Paris also coordinated with Home Depot and several innocent purchasers to return another six skid steers, which were purchased in various counties from Facebook Marketplace. His efforts stopped a sophisticated criminal conspiracy of individuals working in unison to defraud Home Depot as well as innocent purchasers.”
In all, seven people were arrested. While Paris is pleased that these suspects are now off the streets, he still can’t believe he was not only nominated but also will be honored with this prestigious award. “I feel very honored. I am not the type of person who seeks recognition. To get a national award blows my mind. I like to be low-key and do my job. I couldn’t have been successful without the first gentleman who innocently purchased a fraudulently rented machine and the assistance of Home Depot. I admit that I was pretty tenacious. I was not going to let these guys get away with this,” he says.
In addition to Paris being presented the award at the show, his task force will receive a check for $2,000.