Rental car thieves considering Charleston’s Yeager Airport a prime target of opportunity may want to think about taking their business elsewhere.
Of 13 vehicles stolen from the five rental car companies doing business at the airport during the past year, 12 have been recovered and 11 suspects have been arrested, thanks to the work of Yeager’s eight-person police force. Yeager Airport Police also handled the investigation that led to the arrest, conviction and incarceration of a man involved in an embezzlement scheme that netted $65,000 in fraudulent ticket refunds from the airline he worked for prior to his arrest.
“Nearly all the car thefts involved the fraudulent use of credit cards,” said Ivan Neeley, the airport police department’s lead investigator. Most of the credit cards involved had in turn been stolen during incidents of identity theft, he said.
Four of the stolen rental cars turned up in Detroit, while others were recovered in Cleveland, Chicago and, in one case, Louisiana.
The value of the recovered cars is about $260,000.
One of the recovered vehicles had been rented for five days, but the person who drove off with the car continued to use it for the next three years until Yeager Airport Police caught up with him, said Terry Sayers, the airport’s security director.
“There’s one $30,000 car out there that I can’t find, yet,”said Neeley, who investigated vehicle thefts for the Charleston Police Department before joining the Yeager Airport force nine years ago. On Wednesday, during a meeting of the airport’s governing board, Neeley was honored for his investigative work and presented with a plaque by officials from Enterprise.
While stolen credit cards allowed thieves to drive away from the airport in rental cars, they also helped Neeley and his colleagues track them down.
In one case, a group of people from Chicago used stolen Discover cards that were traced to a woman in Texas, Neeley said.
After renting a car at Yeager Airport, they continued to use the stolen cards to buy gas, food and other items as they made their way back to their home town. “Using a credit card leaves a trail,” Neeley said, “and if they’re leaving a trail, we can follow them.”
Neely said the cars were “in surprisingly good condition after they were recovered.”
Under state law, he said, failure to return a rental car is considered a misdemeanor offense, unless it can be established there was intent to defraud.
Neeley, who patrols the airport’s passenger terminal and surrounding grounds with other uniformed officers during the week, works investigations on weekends on overtime. Making calls, taking statements and doing other investigative work would be difficult to impossible, he said, while workings his shifts in the terminal.
Of the 11 suspects arrested for rental car theft during the past year, four have been convicted and three have been indicted.
While the Yeager Airport force has taken a bite out of rental care crime, Neeley and his colleagues don’t expect the situation to get much better anytime soon.
“With the boom in identity theft that’s going on, we’ll be busy,” he said.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5169.