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Tuesday, 01 May 2012 20:21

Major ‘Chop Shop’ Busted in Jackson, MS, Owner Arrested, $500K in Nissan Parts Found

Police uncovered a huge cache of parts stolen from a nearby Nissan plant, as well as parts from other sources, at a Jackson auto body business. Following tips from residents, officers raided Precious Automotive Auto Body Restoration, on Gault Street, just off Highway 80 in Jackson, on April 18. Authorities said a majority of the merchandise came from the Nissan Plant in Canton. Crates full of Nissan parts and components were stored inside the building.
They include catalytic converters, airbags, wire harnesses, batteries and headlight assemblies. Several stolen vehicles were also recovered. J.P.D. detectives arrested the building owner, 48-year old Eric Brown. He is charged with operating a chop shop, auto theft, receiving and possession of stolen property and marijuana possession.
“Detectives including officers arrived on scene and noticed approximately half a million dollars worth of merchandise that was from the Nissan production center,” said J.P.D. Officer Colendula Green.

“We did surveillance on the property, came back out here today, did a chop shop inspection and from that inspection it revealed that there was items out here taken from different areas. Most items we discovered came from the Nissan plant,” said Sgt. L.C. Russell with the Auto Theft Division.

“Nissan has been made aware that a significant amount of automotive parts were recovered today as part of a bust at an illegal chop shop operation in Jackson. We are cooperating fully with the Jackson Police Department, which is to be commended for their efforts. Nissan is supporting the investigation efforts and will continue to ensure the highest levels of security throughout our operations,” said Nissan North America Inc. Corporate Communications Manager Steve Parrett.

Investigators would not confirm if the thefts were an inside job at the Nissan plant, but said more arrests are expected.

“The items up here from Nissan were originally packed in Nissan packaging with tracing numbers still on them. At this point we don’t know how they got up here,” said Sgt. L.C. Russell.

Jackson police have plenty of unanswered questions:
• How did the new auto parts end up at the shop?
Who put them there?
Who were the potential buyers?

The merchandise, which included catalytic converters, airbags, headlights and batteries, still had the Nissan tracking codes on them and were still in cartons and crates when they were found at Precious Automotive Auto Restoration at 5030 U.S. 80W, Sgt. L.C. Russell said.

Officers showed up at the business to make sure it was operating legitimately after getting several tips about a possible chop shop there, he said.
“We primarily went to check their operation license, but when we checked the license we found some other things,” he said.

Shop owner Eric Brown, 48, was charged with multiple counts of receiving and possessing stolen property, as well as a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge, JPD spokeswoman Colendula Green said.

Nissan officials told police they had concerns that some items could be missing, Russell said.

However, the company would not discuss the stolen parts beyond a statement acknowledging that Nissan had been told about the discovery.

No current or former Nissan employees would comment on security related to tracking auto parts shipments.

Police are looking into several ways the merchandise could have ended up unaccounted for. “I’m puzzled about how stuff got out of there in that amount without them noticing,” Russell said.

Nissan uses independent trucking for some of its shipments, he said.

In addition to the stolen Nissan parts, at least one stolen vehicle was on the property, Russell said.

Several onlookers had gathered in the open area in front of the shop after the police arrived, but they all denied knowing Brown or anyone else who worked at the shop.
Russell said he was unaware of Precious Automotive having had precious dealings with the law. He said, however, because of the conditions of the spilled car fluids and auto parts on the property, police would be calling in the state Department of Environmental Quality.

In addition to Brown, two employees were arrested on unrelated outstanding warrants, Green said.
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