Mexican hat dance required to reclaim stolen truck

February 12, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Jordan Spector, a North Laurel businessman, has spent five months and thousands of dollars fighting to get his stolen truck out of Mexico.

He found out Monday he has only business 15 days to retrieve it, or the Mexican government can claim it as its own.

The refrigerated box truck, emblazoned with "Blue Ribbon Food Service," was stolen Sept. 14 from the parking lot at his wholesale food warehouse. Mexican federal police recovered it near the Guatemalan border less than a week later.

How it got there, Mr. Spector doesn't know.

What he does know is that his efforts to retrieve the truck have become wrapped in red tape required by a 1982 treaty called the "Convention between the United States and Mexico for the Recovery and Return of Stolen and Embezzled Vehicles and Aircraft."

"You'd think that -- a country that borders on this country -- the stolen property should be returned with a minimum of red tape. If it had been in Canada, we would've had it back the next day," Mr. Spector said.

On Sept. 21, a Mexican commandant of the federal highway police called Howard County police to report the recovered truck in good condition. In November, Mr. Spector's insurance company paid him $24,000 to replace the truck and allowed him to retain salvage rights.

That month, Mr. Spector convinced two business associates from Mexico to venture down to the town near the Guatemalan border and drive the truck back.

The commandant was happy to see them, said Heinz Koebke Jr., one of the men who went after the truck, because he had been trying to get rid of more than 40 stolen vehicles police had impounded. He told them they were the first people to try to claim any of them.

Despite the commandant's happiness, Mr. Koebke and his co-worker came back empty-handed. "The local authorities were willing to let it go, but once the central government got involved, that's when the problems began," Mr. Spector said.

Mr. Spector's associates were told by the local federal attorney they could have the truck after their paperwork was cleared. The next day they watched a frustrated secretary rip their newly typed forms in half.

Why the secretary ripped the forms, Mr. Spector's associates didn't know.

Then the attorney told them his superiors in Mexico City said the United States and Mexico had a treaty governing stolen property, and they were not following it.

What ensued, Mr. Koebke said, was a "comedy of errors," that involved him flying to Mexico City to help shuttle documents to the embassy, and at one point being told by a consular official that the Mexican government would probably end up owning the truck because an insurance company had paid for it.

The treaty, which applies to stolen property found in both countries, allows the government-in-possession to do its part "as soon as practicable." The owner, however, has a 45-day deadline to submit documents and a 15-day deadline to pick up the vehicle once notified of its release. If the deadlines aren't met, the government keeps the vehicle.

A consular official from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City called Mr. Spector Monday and told him about the vehicle's release and his time limit.

The treaty was signed in 1981 in part to keep people from having to pay ransom for their vehicles, which apparently had been common in the past, said Joseph Pierron, manager of the Dallas field office for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Mr. Spector was not impressed by that argument.

"I'd rather pay the ransom. Let's say I paid a $5,000 ransom -- I'd have my vehicle. Now we've got a treaty and I've wasted $5,000 and I've got nothing," he said.

After Mr. Spector pays for truck rental fees accrued since September and another recovery voyage, he will have spent the $24,000 he received for his truck.

Why he had to wait so long and pay so much, Mr. Spector doesn't know.

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