The Investigators

Nov 6, 2012 12:00 AM

Saga of the twice-stolen Jeep

TUCSON - Imagine having your car stolen not just once but twice

It happened to one Tucson man. You'll be shocked to learn where Matt Carpenter's twice-stolen Jeep Cherokee rolled away from just days before he went to get it back.

Matt contacted the News 4 Tucson Investigators to help get some answers.

"Sometime between 10pm, September 8th, and 1am. That's when I found out the jeep was gone."

He called Tucson Police, made a report but key information was missing.

"I didn't have the plate number because it was a California plate, I hadn't memorized it. I didn't have the VIN number on me."

Matt just got the Jeep back from his brother who drove it from San Diego.

"And that's when we were going to switch everything over, was actually the day after the Jeep was stolen."

When Matt called police with the plate number, they had good news.

"That vehicle has been recovered. It turns out it was pulled over less than 24 hours after it was stolen," Matt explains.

It was pulled over by Mesa Police. The investigators went there to see what went down.

"The driver, driving the vehicle had a suspended license so both of those qualify for a 30 day tow," says Sgt. Tony Landato with the Mesa Police Department.

The driver was cited and released. The Jeep did not come back as stolen when the officer ran the plate.

Mesa Police had the Jeep impounded at Apache Sands Towing in Maricopa County.

Matt made arraignments for a ride. He called Apache Sands Towing one last time.

"I want to make sure I have everything. I'm like, ‘I need this. I need that'. And they're like, 'Oh! You already picked up the vehicle,'" recalls Matt.

That's right. Someone else picked up the Jeep a few days before Matt could get to Mesa.

How can that happen? It turns out Matt's brother put the title in a sealed envelope in the glove box while Matt thought it was in the mail.

According to police reports we obtained from Mesa Police, it appears someone got their hands on the title, forged it, got a new title at a third party D.M.V. office and used that to take the vehicle out of the tow yard.

To make matters worse, Sgt. Landato explains, "The tow yard is actually in what we call a county island, Maricopa County island, so again another law enforcement district.

Matt says he contacted Maricopa County Sheriff's Department from Tucson. He says they told him, he would have to appear in person with all the relevant paper work to make a report.

Matt wants to know why Mesa Police didn't know the car was stolen when they pulled it over the night it was stolen in the first place.

It didn't come back as stolen, because the plate and VIN number were missing from the original report. So while a report was opened, there was not enough information for police to enter the Jeep in the database law enforcement uses to track stolen cars.

Matt also thought it would be obvious if the car was tampered with - hot-wired.

Sgt. Landato says officers always look for those signs. He says not all stolen cars are hot-wired with easy to see damage on the steering column. Some crooks are able to use tumbler or master keys.

Even though it wasn't in their jurisdiction, Mesa Police opened a second report on that forgery case, anticipating they might turn their findings over to Maricopa County Sheriff's Department. Mesa detectives investigated several leads but never found the Jeep.

Matt tells us he recently received word, his Jeep was exported to Mexico.

Here are some tips from both Tucson and Mesa Police which will help prevent some of these pitfalls in the event your car is stolen.

• Properly and quickly register your car and have a proper title, even if it is a transfer from one family member to another.

• Never leave a title in your vehicle and never leave it unsigned or "open"

• Take a photo of your car showing the license number

• Take a photo of your insurance card showing the VIN number.

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