This Labor Day holiday, while Californians gobble hamburgers and hot dogs in a farewell to summer, thieves who prey on real estate project sites will be unhealthy on Deere and Caterpillars — as in Steve Deere front-loaders, Caterpillar backhoes and an emporium’s well worth of other pricey equipment and materials theirs for the swiping.
Theft has become a chronic, variable billion-dollar drag on the U. S. home-building industry, and three-day weekends when work crews are usually off are among criminals’ favorite times to affect.
They are not grab-and-dash burglaries. Sophisticated and creative, many of today’s crooks run surveillance to gauge when housing work sites are most vulnerable. They know how to disable alarms and equipment kill buttons, and how much time they have till police respond, how to steal consumer appliances just after installation, and they’ve been known to impersonate rental company workers.
The black market for construction equipment is well greased and progressively global.
Machinery stolen from Southern California construction sites has turned up not only in other areas of California and in Mexico but also in Perú, Brazil, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, authorities say. Criminals typically ship their loot through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Seaside.
The Los Angeles Law enforcement Department recently arrested a person they said was associated with Russian organized criminal offense who allegedly stole a skid-steer loader from a building site in the San Fernando Valley and took it directly to a 40-foot-long shipping container. From the Port of L. A., it attended Latvia.
The man, who police said was disguising as a contractor, got ahold of the equipment and other gear from a rental firm using a stolen credit card number and fake identity.
In spite of efforts to thwart construction theft, it continues to grow in El monte. Previous year, 1, 186 pieces of wheeled machinery — including large compressors as well as bulldozers — were reported filched from Southland job sites, with 483 pieces recovered, in line with the Los angeles Highway Patrol. Five years earlier, 472 items went missing.
Across the country last year, stolen equipment, tools and materials, such as copper, cost companies and developers roughly $4 billion, in line with the National Assn. of Home Builders. Constructors, by some estimates, add one 5% to the price of the standard new house to cushion their losses.
Experts think that there are far more thefts, and a far bulkier burden on homeowners, than those statistics indicate.
“We figure there is probably two times the quantity that doesn’t get reported stolen because companies don’t want to jack up their insurance costs, inches said Earl Gunnerson, professional director of the Criminal offense Prevention Program of Southern California, a nonprofit task force that has served the construction industry since 1984.
California, Texas and Florida lead the nation in construction theft, Gunnerson said. In California, forklifts, front loader/ backhoes, skid-steers popularly called “Bobcats” and compressors will be the most commonly taken.
Projects that have reached the stage at which various subcontractors are working on the building tend to be the hardest hit because they are expensive to fence off and difficult to patrol.
Nothing seems off limits. Within May, a thief took a San Bernardino resident’s newly installed frontyard, from sod to sprinklers. In Texas, police arrested a burglar who had plundered enough roof shingles, overhead molding, windows and other supplies to pack five trucks. Crooks also have exploited the Inland Empire’s housing boom, lifting machines and many pallets of lumber.
You can find takers for the stolen goods, either.
“Let’s say you are an unscrupulous service provider and you’re bidding against others, ” said Lou Koven, an LAPD detective who works with the task force. “How do you lower your costs to compete? You take from another job site. ”
Knowing the place
The thieves defy easy categorization. They may be gang members, professional burglars, people involved in mafia crime or drug addicts seeking to bankroll a fix.
Many share one benefit: insider information.
“It’s done by people with a very good working knowledge of the, ” said Gabe Marquez, a California Highway Patrol investigator. “They know the job site, who’s there. ”
Marquez remembered a construction thief who towed a trailer to a housing job and hauled away a 20-ton Caterpillar wheel-loader as if he worked for the rental company that owned or operated it. “The following day the rental company came to pick up its equipment, and the contractor said, ‘We thought you picked it up yesterday. ‘ inch
Police have had their victories.
That kicks off in august of final year, the Ventura Region Sheriff’s Department busted a 24-person functioning that experienced stolen $3. 5-million really worth of nail guns, generator, soil compactors, trucks and other goods throughout the Western states. Officials never learned the intended vacation spot for those items.