tv Taking the Bait MSNBC October 22, 2011 10:00am-11:00am PDT
watch criminals caught on tape, caught in the act. watch closely. is someone committing a crime? >> i don't know if you want to count the money or whatever. >> i can do that later on. >> hidden cameras capture what looks like a payoff. wait till you see the payback. tonight, a young wife and mother goes undercover to protect a husband who may be in danger. >> you were moved by what your wife did for you. >> can she and her partner pull it off? they're ready with secret microphones. >> i think this is going to work. >> wads of cash. >> there's $5,000.
>> okay. >> and hidden cameras. >> hi. how are you? >> police are watching it all. now, so can you. this looks and sounds like a video game. >> i got to crews this [ bleep ]. >> but it's the real thing. >> everything has to come up, just the seats, the center console. >> come along for the ride with car thieves as you've never seen them before. have you ever seen anything like this? >> never had a bird's-eye view of an actual chop. >> they're caught on tape as they strip a car right before your eyes. and our camera's hidden inside. how to keep this from being your car. this is "msnbc reports." i'm john siegenthaler. it takes a brave cop to be willing to go undercover to catch a criminal. it can take an even more courageous civilian. you're going inside a secret sting run by police using two
willing civilians as bait. we caught it all on our hidden cameras. it's a rare chance to witness an undercover operation as it happens and to see for yourself what a dangerous gamble it can be. here's victoria corderi. >> reporter: at a fast food restaurant in houston, two frightened women sit in the cold with a bag full of cash waiting. >> hundreds, 50s, 20s. there's $5,000 total. >> okay. >> reporter: they're carrying $5,000. and they're equipped with sophisticated surveillance gear. >> this is going to work. >> reporter: the women are unlikely undercover agents in an investigation of corruption in the texas state prison system. >> 15,000. >> reporter: you're about to get an inside hidden camera look at how a shakedown happens. >> whatever you all do, don't get separated from each other. >> okay, okay. >> reporter: the target of this sting? this man. a prison official who seems to
be using his public position for personal gain. >> just push both buttons down. >> reporter: dora vasquez and maria olivarez are two legal immigrants from el salvador, living in houston. they wound up in the middle of this undercover sting because dora says she and her husband, a prison inmate, are being extorted. here's the story dora tells. for weeks, she's been getting bullying and unnerving phone calls at all hours of the day and night. the caller was a corrections officer with enormous power over her husband. and he was using that power to shake down dora's family for a $15,000 bribe. in return for the payoff, he said he could doctor prison records to get her husband out of jail almost immediately. he would be a free man ten months before his sentence was up. and the corrupt offer didn't end there. the jailer also claimed he could keep her husband from being deported by pulling i.n.s. paperwork from his prison file.
dora says the corrections officer made it clear she had to pay no matter what. and if she didn't, there could be dire consequences. >> translator: i was thinking they could arrive at any moment and do something to us. >> reporter: dora, who doesn't speak english, said she didn't think this kind of corruption could happen in the united states. she says she felt trapped. she couldn't come up with the $15,000 even if she wanted to. she and her 2-year-old daughter, nitzi, were living with her friend, maria. what was your immediate response when you heard? >> i didn't believe it. and i told her not to do it. she got very, very scared. and i said, let me help you. before we give you any money -- >> reporter: so, maria began translating between dora and the corrections officer. >> we tried so hard to get this money. >> reporter: they knew they needed help. but they didn't know where to go. dora says a spanish speaking policeman she spoke with informally at the grocery store
told her not to go to the police. >> translator: he told me i was going to need proof because they weren't going to believe that the head of a jail could be doing that. >> reporter: finally, dora decided to call telemundo's channel 47, one of houston's spanish language television stations. what did you think the tv station could do for you? >> translator: i wanted to go public. i needed their help because i was scared they were going to kill my husband inside the jail. >> reporter: she reached this reporter and told him her story. >> she said i'm afraid. she said they're going to think i'm the one doing wrong over here, not them. and that's why she decided to call us. >> reporter: he says at first he was skeptical. but dora told him he didn't have to take her word for it. >> i'm calling to see what they're going to do about the money. >> reporter: the women had secretly gathered evidence on their own. they had recorded some of the
dozens and dozens of calls from the corrections officer, who conferenced in a female accomplice to translate for him. once you heard those tapes, a light went off. what did you think was happening here? >> i thought, since she's an immigrant, they thought, oh, she's not going to go to the authorities. and we'll get $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 out of her. and nobody will ever know. >> reporter: angered by the exploitation of a poor family, saul came up with a plan to use hidden cameras to tape a meeting with dora, maria and the officer as further evidence of the crime. the women were nervous about doing it but say they really had no choice. they had to act. a meeting was set up at a fast food restaurant. the jailer showed up, and left no doubt about what he wanted. cash. and lots of it. >> i want to get half of it now. and then, when he comes home, he can give me the rest. >> reporter: the jailer says the plan is foolproof.
>> it's legit. it's not anything to do with the jail. i know people that's working in certain places to make this stuff happen. >> reporter: just who else and how many others are involved is not clear. maria tells him he'll get his money in three weeks. both women know this is a stalling tactic. they pray they'll find a way out before then. >> actually, at that moment what i wanted to do is jump out of the truck and go talk to him. >> reporter: but saul decides the confrontation with the corrections officer must wait. instead he follows him, gets his license plate number and uses that to uncover his identity. demone holman. he, in fact, holds a powerful position at the prison where dora's husband is serving time for forgery. holman seems to be a surprising candidate for corruption. his career record is unblemished. dora now knows that demone holman has a lot of control over her husband.
her worst fears are confirmed days later when she learns he has been beaten by two inmates he's never seen before. he believes the inmates were sent by holman. dora sees it as a clear message and the phone calls from holman's accomplice seem to confirm that. she was calling and saying this is not a game. this is serious. what are you doing? don't play. what did you say to her? >> translator: i just stayed quiet. >> reporter: as the payoff deadline approaches, saul is at an impasse uncertain what to do next. lives may be on the line. saul and his boss reach out to our producers and a decision is made to take dramatic action. >> i think everybody's in position. a plan to bring in hidden cameras. will there be hidden dangers? >> this guy, to our knowledge, isn't going to be carrying a gun. but we have to be prepared for whatever might happen. >> when "msnbc reports" continues. [ engine revving ]
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dora vasquez says a prison officer is demanding $15,000. claiming he can set her husband free. and she fears for her life if she doesn't pay up. >> today's date is january the 11th, 2003. and it's a few minutes after 7:00 p.m. my name is dan mcannulty. >> reporter: dan is the chief investigator for the harris county, texas, district attorney's office. our producers arranged a meeting and mcannulty moves quickly to open a criminal investigation. >> we're going to attempt to make a phone call. >> reporter: first, he asks dora and her friend and translator, maria, if he can tape a phone conversation between the women and demone holman, the prison official dora says is squeezing her family for money. >> talk to him. get him to talk to you about that. >> reporter: mcannulty preps the women for the call. telling them what to say. >> you're calling him to tell him you have managed to get the
$5,000. you're going to have it by monday or tuesday. all right. go ahead. >> reporter: since holman does not speak spanish, maria does the talking. >> this is maria. >> reporter: the telemundo reporter is there to report, and to lend support. >> i told edwin it was going to be $15,000 for everything. so, i mean, where are you at now? >> $15,000. okay. i'm going to have first $5,000. >> okay. >> okay. where can we meet? >> reporter: the meeting is set. >> so, we're going to meet there then. >> okay. >> reporter: the investigator believes he has a good corruption case in the works. >> i can't think of any reason why a state employee would be trying to get $15,000 for -- from an inmate's family that would be anything but illegal. >> reporter: tuesday morning, the meeting is on for 1:00 p.m.
at the same place they first met demone holman. a fast food restaurant in west houston. dan mcannulty and the police would have liked more time to prepare. but there is no more time. in a phone call the night before, dora said a threat was made on her husband's life. >> she says, they told her if they didn't pay the money tomorrow, they were going to make him disappear. >> reporter: by 10:00 a.m., mcannulty has assembled his team at maria's two-bedroom apartment. the police reviewed telemundo's video of holman so everyone knows what he looks like. the police know there's no room for error. >> this guy, to our knowledge, isn't going to be carrying a gun. but we don't know that. we don't know what he may or may not do. so, we have to be prepared for whatever might happen. we certainly don't want any gunfire in a public place like that. >> reporter: the plan is for dora and maria to sit at an outside table so they're safe and visible. the police will be staked out around the parking lot.
>> i don't know if i'm going to fool with this and shuffle it a little bit or not. >> reporter: the two women will hand the prison officer a $5,000 downpayment. and the cops will swoop in. that's the plan. but plans can go wrong. dora fears holman will realize it's a sting and hurt them. >> main thing is we want everybody to be safe, and we want the money not to walk away. >> back down in this parking lot just east of the sonic. >> reporter: using an aerial photo of the fast food restaurant and the adjacent shopping center, mcannulty and his colleagues deploy their troops. >> in the event he goes out this way. >> we're going to have to stop him right here. we don't want him getting out on the street. >> reporter: the success of the operation really depends on the performance of dora and maria. if they falter or betray their fear, the consequences could be devastating. a surveillance specialist hired by our producers outfits maria with a hidden camera. sewing and cutting carefully to conceal the wiring her clothes. >> those tables over at sonic
about this high, you think? >> reporter: the job has to be done right. demone holman has a law enforcement background. and he may be wary. >> i think that's going to work. >> reporter: it is just past noon. dan mcannulty takes a photo of the women for the record and then, gives them very specific instructions. >> under no circumstances do i want you or dora to leave with him and go anywhere. if he says, let's go sit in my car so i can look at the money, say no, no. we're not -- i'm afraid. >> hundreds, 50s, 20s. there's $5,000 total. >> okay. >> reporter: once it's counted, the money is put in a box and wrapped in a plastic grocery bag. the less suspicious-looking the better. then mcannulty asked maria to call to make sure the jailer is on his way. >> okay. try to be there 1:00 because it's kind of cold to be outside waiting for you. okay? >> reporter: the meeting is on.
>> act like you're adjusting your ponytail? >> reporter: mcannulty gives maria a signal to use in case they lose communication. >> that will be a signal from you to us that he took the money. >> reporter: all this preparation seems to unnerve dora. she wants reassurance that she and maria will be protected. >> people will be right there. tell her people will be right close by. >> reporter: finally, it's time to go. a small army of policemen and camera crews are in place and waiting, as dora and maria walk the two blocks to the rendezvous point. >> gary, can you hear me? are you picking up the signal? >> reporter: they find their table and sit waiting in the cold. will holman show up? >> i think everybody's in position. i don't think there's any cars out here without police in them. >> reporter: dora and maria have no idea what is about to happen. >> he's going to radio everybody he's here. >> reporter: but it's too late to turn back now. >> you see the vehicle's on the scene? >> yeah, we got him.
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dora and maria take their seats at the fast food restaurant and put the bag containing the $5,000 in bribe money in plain sight. they're waiting for demone holman, a prison officer who dora vasquez says has been pressuring her for a payoff. in return, dora says holman claims he can get her husband out of jail. >> give me the megahertz channel again. >> reporter: also waiting, an army of police officers staked out around the parking lot. so much could go wrong. will the women keep their wits about them and not make the prison officer suspicious? the moment arrives.
>> vehicle in sight. >> you received the vehicle's owner at the scene? >> yeah, we got him. he's fixing to sit down with them right now. >> hi. how are you? >> all right. >> good. >> reporter: maria, dora's friend and translator does all the talking. right off, holman wants to go inside. >> i don't want to go inside. >> reporter: but maria clearly remembers her instructions. she knows she has to stay outside to be safe. she presses holman for details. >> before we hand you the money, i would like to know when he is going to go out. how we going to pick him up or the arrangement or -- >> what's going to happen, they're going to allow him to make a phone call to call you. >> okay. >> and then, you can come up there and pick him up. >> okay. when do you think it's going to be then? >> i want to say the 22nd or the 23rd. but once i punch it in the computer, they're going to give me the exact date.
>> reporter: holman is confident even cocky about his ability to manipulate the prison system but he's also skittish. reacting to a nearby car alarm. >> so, do you think it's not gonna have any problems or anything? >> i guarantee no problems whatsoever. as a matter of fact, i got the i.n.s. detainer, i got that letter in my car. they sent a warrant letter, hold for u.s. i.n.s. >> okay. >> let me go get that and show what you i'm talking about. >> reporter: the move is unexpected. investigator dan mcannulty gets ready to signal his men just in case the driver tries to walk off. but is he just grabs the letter, a letter that says dora's husband will be deported after he gets out of jail. holman says he'll make it disappear. and then dora's husband can stay in the united states. >> this letter is just allowing him, when you all come to get him, he can walk straight out the door and go to the house. >> okay. >> this is what is in his folder. >> reporter: maria and dora
sense the time has come to close the deal. >> we brought the money like this because we don't want any suspicions about what we have. but i don't know if you want to count the money or whatever. >> i can do that later on. >> okay. >> reporter: but the women want to pin him down about when dora's husband will be released. >> how we going to know? because we trust you. but i mean -- >> i can call. i am gonna do it at my job. i can go and do it and give you the exact date and call you and let you know. >> okay. >> reporter: holman is now in a hurry to leave. >> okay. she want to keep this one. >> yeah, that's fine. >> reporter: but dora insists on keeping the i.n.s. letter. >> okay. okay. >> reporter: now that he's taken the money, the police carefully time their move. >> okay, dan. he has the money. you can get him anytime you want to. >> reporter: and maria, not knowing if the cops heard it all, tugs at her pony tail, the signal that means holman took the money. >> let him get in this lot and then we'll stop him.
>> reporter: but holman doesn't use the front exit, as police had anticipated. he's headed out the back way. >> he came in from the back. see where he's going now. >> reporter: the undercover cops close in. mcannulty has to race around the back. in the seconds that takes, demone holman is already handcuffed and in custody. >> right over here. >> reporter: surrounded by cops and cameras, texas prison officer demone holman seems stunned. >> looking straight ahead over there. >> yes, sir. >> understand? >> yes, sir. >> don't be moving. >> yes, sir.
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he was the half brother to king abdullah. he was 85 years old. an american has been killed by a great white shark off the coast of australia. the man was reportedly diving in a popular tourist area. this is the third fatal shark attack off the western australian coast this year. more news later. but now back to "taking the bait." returning to our story, police have just arrested a texas prison guard for soliciting a bribe from the wife of one of his prisoners. he was caught red-handed in an undercover police sting operation that was aided by the prisoner's wife and her friend. here again is victoria corderi. >> reporter: the undercover operation is a success. and the police have their evidence. they've recovered the payoff money. and the jailer is headed to jail. >> you have a right to remain silent and not make any statement at all and that any statement you make may be used against you and probably will be used against you at trial. do you understand? >> reporter: dora and maria have
pulled it off. >> everything is okay. he's under arrest. >> reporter: the two women wait in a police car, trying to calm themselves as demone holman is taken from the scene. >> hands hurting? >> yes, sir. >> okay. loosen the cuffs just a little bit. >> reporter: the undercover sting is over. but as she walks home, maria worries about what might happen next. >> i don't know what's going to happen to us. what he's going to do in revenge. >> reporter: what kind of revenge? they have no idea what could be in store for them now. it's all too much for dora. what dora doesn't know is that later that same day, her husband, edwin, is moved to a solitary cell for his own protection. he had no idea that his wife had helped get demone holman arrested. he learned about it later from another inmate. >> tv. >> translator: a guy said, hey, i saw you on tv. and i saw your wife and mr. holman on tv on a spanish channel. and that my wife had given mr. holman money and that they
had arrested him. >> reporter: soon he got to hear the entire story from dora herself. >> translator: i rejoiced over what my wife had done for me. right now, i feel full of emotion because of the courage that she had. and i give thanks also to all those who helped me. >> reporter: so, you told him and he gave you a hug. >> translator: yes. he hugged me. and told me i was intelligent. i said, no, i was just scared. >> reporter: holman pled guilty to a felony count of bribery. he spent 30 days in jail and was fined $10,000. he declined to be interviewed. prison officials say holman resigned rather than be fired from his job. ironically, his supervisors had rated him an asset to the prison system. someone who always goes above and beyond. but the question now becomes, how above and beyond the law did demone holman go? edwin told us two other inmates also were being shaken down.
and that a third got out early after he reportedly paid holman. finally, reporter saul estrella had his story because he listened to the two women when no one else would. so, you felt like a hero after it happened? >> not exactly. but i felt that i was doing my job right. it was not only me. it was also dora and maria with me. i felt like the three of us had and so, i think i have felt what they are feeling now. >> reporter: he wanted to make sure the women were heard. and they were. >> they never thought i was going to do something like that. you know? because they think maybe they don't know nothing about the law or anything.
>> reporter: so, you think they underestimated you two? >> yes. >> reporter: they thought that you were these simple immigrants who had no clue and would do anything that they were told? >> that's right. but they don't know that we can do something, too. coming up, what happens to a car after it's stolen? go on an amazing joyride along with hidden cameras. >> what are you going to do to this car? run it in the lake or burn it or are you stripping it? >> see a chop shop caught on tape when "msnbc reports" continues. accept it. you can't change the way banking works. just accept it, man. free ? doesn't close at five ? try nature. it's a bank. what do you want, a hug ? just accept it. hidden fees, fine print, or they'll stick it to you some other way. stay with the herd, son. accept it. just accept it. accept it. just accept it. accept it. if we miss this movie, you're dead. if you're stuck accepting banking nonsense, you need an ally.
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car theft costs americans $8 billion a year. a car is reported stolen every 30 seconds. you are never supposed to see what we're about to show you. car thieves who thought no one was watching. you'll go along on the joyride as we catch a thief in action. then, watch a gang of thieves at work as they strip a car. here's john larson with a hidden camera investigation. >> reporter: you are watching, with the help of nbc's hidden cameras, as thieves strip a car. they're hoping to sell the stolen parts and make money. this could easily be your car because auto theft is on the increase. more than 1 million stolen cars a year in america. but boy, did these guys pick the wrong car. have you ever seen anything like this? >> no. never had a bird's-eye view of
an actual chop. >> reporter: in the past, you may have seen pictures like these. car thieves caught on tape stealing cars police have secretly wired with hidden cameras. often teenagers out for a joyride. but their rides never end joyfully. >> damn, they got the gun out. they must be -- >> hands up. hands up. >> damn! >> get set for friday. >> reporter: tonight, our cameras take you even further inside a major investigation. aimed at a whole new side of auto theft. >> and the thing will be slashed. and it will be gutted. >> reporter: inside a special car police will use not to make quick arrests. but to try to follow the thieves deep inside the secret organized world of auto theft. you'll be watching along with police as a car is stripped right before your eyes.
>> saul is there. he's working with them. >> reporter: it all began in 2002, part of a painstaking investigation. >> see what i'm talking about? >> reporter: our cameras were given unprecedented, behind-the-scenes access following a team of auto theft detectives in miami-dade county. >> survey says, yeah! stolen out of new york. >> reporter: led by a 29-year veteran cop who knows everything you should ever know about car theft. and then some. >> i was a victim of auto theft. >> reporter: you're telling me somebody stole your car? >> my personal van. >> reporter: detective jim rakestraw says it happened to him when he was parked at the courthouse waiting to testify in a trial. what's it feel like to get your car ripped? >> instant rage. he took my vehicle? >> reporter: now, detective rakestraw and his partners, eddie gonzales and bill antulles. >> that's why we hate auto thieves. >> reporter: are trying to put a
dent in one of the highest auto theft rates in the nation, by looking for auto theft rings responsible for dozens of crimes. the detectives think they've spotted a pattern involving one of the local tow truck companies, nolan north. they've noticed that nolan has been finding the remains of dozens of stolen cars. some of them missing so many parts, their owners didn't even recognize them. >> this is before. this is after. it was unbelievable. >> reporter: and there's something else unusual. a clue, hidden in the phone calls the tow company made reporting the recovered cars to police. >> and stolen. >> we found that some of the vehicles were getting recovered before they were being reported stolen. >> reporter: so, supposedly the tow company was finding them already stripped and nobody had even said my car was stolen yet? >> right. >> reporter: for the miami-dade detectives it's a tip-off that the tow company, nolan north,
and its owner sal capozi, that's him standing outside, might be involved in a very different kind of auto theft, where things are not what they appear, where, get this, people actually want to have their own cars stolen. in rough economic times, many people struggle to make their car payments. or if they're leasing a car, they may face stiff penalties if they've driven too many miles. for some, the way out of this bind is to have their car stolen. that way, instead of paying their bills, they cash in on their insurance. >> this was not stolen. >> reporter: police call them give-ups, insurance fraud made to look like auto theft. >> real professionals. >> reporter: if nolan north is part of an insurance fraud scheme like that, it's an opportunity for the police. the idea? have an undercover detective, chris smith -- >> great, perfect. >> reporter: -- pretend he's
behind on his payments and wants to give up his car to collect on the insurance. >> i'm going to sound desperate. i need to get rid of this car. i'm scared. hey, look. >> perfect. >> reporter: if the tow company seems interested, the police will use this red chevy blazer as bait and try to follow it all the way to the chop shop. >> okay, eddie. they're going in. >> reporter: after weeks of planning and surveillance of the tow company, the undercover detective pulls into the yard. riding as a passenger in this white car and wearing a hidden police microphone. before long, the tow company boss, sal capozi, walks over to the car and starts talking business. >> what's going on? if you got the small blazer, it's got the small motor. >> reporter: as police listen from a nearby surveillance van, capozi tells the undercover cop he knows how the insurance scam works. >> what they would end up doing to the thing is taking the thing apart. gutting the interior.
that way the person that they do it for gets paid quick. >> reporter: but there's a problem. capozi tells the undercover cop that the 1996 blazer that the police are using as bait is too old. the engine too small. the chop shop might not want it, unless he kicks in some cash. >> i could talk to 'em because i'm going to see 'em this afternoon. what could you give them? >> 500 bucks. >> reporter: as the first meeting ends, police think capozi is ready to take their bait. >> we're in there, guys. we're in there. i'm calling you right now. >> beauty, beauty. yeah, you are good. you are good. >> reporter: it takes a series of follow-up phone calls. >> what's up, dude? it's chris. >> reporter: but after five days, the undercover detective finally gets the green light. >> all right. you got it. i'll be there about 5:00. >> reporter: capozi is taking the bait. in fact, he's so brazen that instead of saying leave the car
somewhere, he said bring it straight to the tow yard. >> 5:00, i'm going to bring the car right to the tow yard. >> reporter: but before the bait car is delivered, authorities allow nbc news to install hidden cameras inside, so we can watch what happens. one in the front, and one in the back. hidden in the eyes of this decal. we hide our equipment in secret spots where even car thieves probably won't look. although, to comply with eavesdropping laws, we do add these stickers on the windows and the dash, warning thieves the car is equipped with an audio recording system. >> working off channel three. >> reporter: that afternoon, police make final preparations. >> may look like a bad guy. >> reporter: including counting the money they may have to hand over. >> crumble it up a little bit. make it look better. that's how bad guys keep their money. here, dude, that's all i got. >> reporter: but as he gives the bait car a final check and heads to his surveillance van, detective rakestraw is nervous.
>> lots of variables. >> reporter: if the bait car is really going to a chop shop, why would capozi want it dropped off, in broad daylight, at his tow lot where somebody might see it? >> just a rip-off. $500. >> reporter: but by now, there is no turning back. the undercover cop is on his way in. >> morning. >> good luck. >> reporter: shortly after 5:00, on a wednesday afternoon, undercover detective chris smith delivers the bait car directly to capozi's tow yard. static and noise from the tow trucks make it hard to hear. but listen for that familiar voice, sal capozi, saying make up a cover story about going fishing so the car isn't reported stolen until the chop shop finishes the job. >> you could have went fishing. you don't know if it was taken in the morning when you left. you left at 5:00 in the morning. >> reporter: when a tow truck worker called peewee comes over to the car, it sounds like he
already knows about the deal. >> you got all your belongings? >> reporter: in fact, peewee tells the undercover officer he steals cars but he says his girlfriend drives because he's already in trouble with the law. >> bro, i steal cars. she drives for me. if i'm going to jail, i'm a two-time loser. i been to prison twice. i go one more time, i'm out of gas. >> reporter: when the deal is complete, the undercover detective leaves the car and walks away. the tow company has taken the bait. and before long, peewee, the admitted car thief jumps in with his girlfriend. >> this is different. i got to cruise this [ bleep ]. >> reporter: the question now, just how far into the secret world of auto theft will the bait car take us? [ male announcer ] to the 5:00 a.m. scholar. the two trains and a bus rider. the "i'll sleep when it's done" academic. for 80 years, we've been inspired by you. and we've been honored to walk with you
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a tow company in the miami area has taken the bait. a special car equipped with a tracking device and hidden bai. a special car equipped with a tracking device and hidden cameras and now that car is being taken for a spin by an admitted thief and his girlfriend. detectives hope their joyride will hope to a major chop shop. once again, here's john larsen. >> it's a wednesday night in miami. peewee, the admitted car thief doesn't know the car he's driving with his girlfriend is part of a police sting. with nbc's hidden cameras riding along. at first, they seem like any other couple out for the evening. >> you going to kiss me? >> looking at the flowers from a roadside salesman. no, i don't like. >> before long, talk turns to
business and what will happen to the car. >> what will you do to this car? are run it in or are you stripping it. >> their drive is about to take a new direction. suddenly, they make the first in a series of fast u-turns. >> the detective thinks it's to make sure they're not being followed. >> it's not like in the movies where you can stay right behind somebody and they don't know it. so had you been tailing them here they probably would have figured it out. >> we would have been burned. >> before long, peewee and his girlfriend switch places. the girlfriend driving now while peewee gets directions over the phone. >> is it parkway towers the name of the building? >> turns out they're not on their way to a chop shop at all. >> he's at the white building. >> criminals often use stolen
cars to commit other crimes and peewee seems to have spotted a target. >> that's it right there. >> that's a honda. >> he's shouting to a tow truck they've linked up with. >> you can see them towing away the car they just spotted. >> you're thinking there their is not a legitimate tow job. upon. >> no. no. what's your suspicion on this car. that they're picking up a car to chop. >> you can't make out the license plate number so there's no sure way to identify the car or check what happened to it, but police would later search tow company records. th they told nbc news they could find no record of a legitimate tow and that nobody reported their car, and you may be watching another insurance scam in progress. >> the owner might have been in on it. >> i'm pretty sure the owner might have been in on it and it could have been reported stole noone boca ratton or stolen
anywhere. >> in the bait car the night is far from over. >> at 2:00 in the morning peewee and his girlfriend return. joined this time by another tow yardworker they call flaco. >> within minutes it sounds like they're casing another target. >> right there? >> let me scope it out. >> being very careful not to be seen. >> duck down in the backseat. >> it turns out they're looking to steal something called spoons. that's a nickname for parts on the back of the tow truck to help grab the tires. >> grab the spoon, bro. >> they circle the area and worry about being followed. >> there's a car following us. >> i don't know where he went. >> a gray car with tinted windows. >> of course, they don't know our hidden cameras are following, riding along recording every move. when they think the coast is
clear, flaco jumps out and peewee barks instructions. lights on right now. make a u-turn. listen carefully as they stop and peewee gets out to help. you can can hear a familiar voice on the two-way radio. proof, police say, that sal capozi, the tow company boss is behind the scenes pulling the strings. >> they're talking on the radio with their boss. >> at 2:00 in the morning. that's a good boss. >> that's real management 101 going on there. >> micromanagement. in less than a minute they're back loading the loot. and telling the boss they're okay. >> tell him you're okay. tell him you're okay. >> why? he called? >> yeah. >> at 2:30 a.m. with the battery on the bait car running down they decide to call it a night. >> yeah. go home. >> the police hadn't planned it this way. they thought it would just be stripped for parts, but their bait car has just become a
getaway car. >> and they would have gotten away with it. >> if that fellow wasn't in the backseat. >> that little fellow, nbc's hidden camera has captured the whole thing. the next morning back at the tow yard instead of taking the bait car to a chop shop sal capozia riefrs and tell us the workers what needs to be done. >> everything has to come up, flaco. the seats, the center console and get the dash out. >> the dash? >> no, just the speedometer cluster, the radio. >> one by one, parts of the car removed. >> it is a pain staking process. the boss checking in periodically to monitor their progress. >> can't do it that way. >> some of the parts they save. others, they simply destroy.
>> it's all happening in the back of the tow yard behind a large truck out of view, but thanks to nbc's hidden cameras, police are watching it as it happens. >> sal is there. he's working with them. he's helping out right now in the center console. >> it's been nearly an hour now. piece by piece, the car is disappearing. when suddenly you can hear the workers discover something in the car they didn't expect. >> what's this? >> it looks like they may have found something. >> hey, stay off it. look at this stuff, we got batteries and antennas and all kind of stuff. >> an audio transmitter. video and audio. >> we've been made. we lost the camera. we lost the camera. move in. >> more than a dozen police who have been waiting in unmarked
cars quickly rush in. >> up against the car! >> there will be arrests, including the boss, sal capozi. >> anything to say, sal? >> car thefts are going up substantially, particularly in the last two years. >> experts say what nbc's camera captured is just one example of a growing trend happening all across the country. >> this is criminal action going on right before our eyes and it's very common. >> robert bryant, the head of the national insurance crime bureau says it's costing americans billions of dollars. >> they say car theft in the united states is about an $8.5 billion problem, so what you're seeing here with these people taking this vehicle apart piece by piece, it's huge. >> but in the strange world of auto theft, it seems the law can sometimes be friendly to thieves. >> what happened to all of these guys? are they all in jail now?
>> no. they're all out. >> they're all out? >> yeah. this is auto theft. >> you heard right. since they didn't actually steal the bait car, the police deli r delivered it and since they took the car apart themselves rather than leading police to the secret chop shop all they were charged with was dealing in stolen parts. in the end you can't charge these guys with car theft? >> no. >> you can't charge them with insurance fraud? >> no. even though you and i and everybody watching tonight that's exactly what was going on? >> right. they were discussing it. >> hey, that one's stolen. >> there was a search warrant at the tow yard that night and police recovered four other cars reported stolen. but flaco, the man caught on tape stealing parts at night and chopping the car the next day pled no contest and got a year on probation.
peewee, the self-proclaimed auto thief and two-time loser spent months on the run, but he was eventually caught. he was convicted and jailed. his girlfriend was never charged, and as for his boss, sal capozi, he was sentenced to five years' probation on the condition he'd get out of the towing business. >> no problem. >> that is the body number and that's been altered, too. leaving miami-dade detectives still searching for that major chop shop, the heart of the organized ring responsible for dozens of crimes. >> that's got to be frustrating. >> oh, yeah. >> you've done everything perfectly. you actually go on the joyride, right? you watch them brag about it, laugh about it and do it and they're not in jail. >> it's auto theft. >> welcome to grand theft auto 101. >> frustrating, isn't it? >> that will do it for this edition of ms