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07/26/2012

Conspirator in international car theft ring sentenced to 6 years in prison

BALTIMORE – Solomon Owusu Asare, 36, formerly of Laurel, Md., was sentenced Thursday to six years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, by U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar for conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen motor vehicles in connection with a scheme to ship stolen cars from the United States to countries in West Africa for resale, and for aggravated identity theft related to his obtaining a United States passport in the name of another individual.

According to his plea agreement, between 2007 and April 2011, Asare was an active participant in a conspiracy to ship stolen cars from the United States to countries in West Africa for resale. Members of the conspiracy in the United States hired others to steal late model vehicles – with the keys – so that the vehicles could be more easily sold. The vehicles were obtained in a number of ways, including: stealing new cars from dealerships, either by breaking in and stealing the keys, or by paying employees of the dealership to leave the keys; stealing cars from victims who left their keys inside the vehicle; renting cars, then filing false police reports claiming the vehicle had been stolen; and by carjacking victims at gunpoint.

Asare admitted that he took orders from "buyers" in Africa, purchased the stolen vehicles from the thieves or an intermediary, and then stored the vehicles at a parking lot or other location, known as "cooling spots." After three or four vehicles were accumulated, Asare and other conspirators arranged for the vehicles to be towed or driven to a location to be loaded into a shipping container. Members of the conspiracy, including Asare, hired international shipping companies to arrange for the containers to be shipped overseas. A tractor trailer would transport the container to various ports including Baltimore, Newark, N.J., and Norfolk, Va., for shipment to West Africa.

Asare paid the participants along the way, including the intermediaries, drivers of the stolen vehicles, tow truck drivers, tractor-trailer drivers and shipping companies. All payments were in cash.

For example, on March 17, 2011, members of the conspiracy carjacked a silver 2009 Toyota Camry from a victim in Landover, Md., which co-conspirator Kevin Britton, 19, of Washington, D.C., delivered later that evening to Asare and Gabriel Awuzie, 35, of Adelphi, Md. Asare paid Britton approximately $1,500 for the stolen vehicle. On March 31, 2011, Asare and Awuzie caused the vehicle to be delivered to a shipping company in Beltsville, Md., where on April 6 and April 7, 2011, Asare and other conspirators loaded the vehicle and two others sold to them by Britton, as well as a fourth stolen vehicle, into a shipping container for shipment to Lagos, Nigeria. On April 13, 2011, law enforcement stopped the tractor trailer transporting the shipping container in Baltimore. The container was searched and the four stolen vehicles were discovered.

Additionally, in 2011, after fleeing Maryland to avoid state charges related to this case, Asare fraudulently applied for and obtained a United States passport in another person's name to attempt to conceal his identity and to avoid law enforcement. Asare also admitted that he had previously engaged in a fraudulent marriage in order to obtain Lawful Permanent Resident status in the United States.

On April 5, Judge Bredar sentenced Awuzie to 30 months in prison for his role in the conspiracy. Britton previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen motor vehicles and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 28 at 10:00 a.m.

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore, the Baltimore County Police Department, the Montgomery County Police Department, the Maryland State Police and the Prince George's County Police Department.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Budlow.