STATE AUTHORITIES in Utah have identified a person of interest in an alleged chop shop and insurance fraud ring, and are seeking information about five more participants.
Officers of the Utah State Tax Commission’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division raided storage facilities in West Bountiful and West Jordan Tuesday. Between the two, they recovered 10 cars including high-performance street racing cars; six “high-end” motorcycles including an H-D and a Honda; a Polaris ATV; and a front-end loader and trailer, as well as a cache of car and bike parts. Only one of the bikes was running, and one car escaped nearly unscathed because it had been stolen only the day before.
“They were all stolen from private parties throughout the Salt Lake Valley -- apartment complexes and the like,” typically from exposed parking areas and at night, said Utah State Tax Commission spokesman Charlie Roberts.
Authorities have identified Cody Yelsma, 22, as a person of interest. “There are several persons of interest but particularly Yelsma, because he has a history with us,” Roberts said.
The raid followed a 10-month investigation, which included officers from the Utah Insurance Fraud Division. That began when investigators found a handful of vehicles in a canal during the spring runoff.
“There is a surplus canal that runs in an isolated area of Salt Lake County. One of Yelsma’s vehicles was found there,” Roberts explained. “They would drive them into this canal when it is high in the winter. Spring starts to come and we found them. There were six in there.”
Roberts said two of the cars were believed to be the subjects of false insurance claims.
“They would be street-race vehicles. They would take them out and fry the engines,” he said. “They would arrange with someone to ‘steal’ the vehicle and then file a false insurance claim.”
Yelsma and possibly others could face second-degree felony charges including auto theft, possession of stolen vehicles, possession of stolen parts, removal and switching of vehicle identification numbers, and insurance fraud.
Anyone with information on the suspects is asked to contact the MVED tip line at (801) 297-2600.