By Press Release
Photos by Meghan Marchetti/DWR
The Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is proud to announce that the Special Operations Unit, which is part of their Law Enforcement Division, received the 2020 Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) Law Enforcement Conservation Award. This prestigious award recognizes outstanding, national-level achievements in Conservation Law Enforcement by an individual, a unit, bureau, division or a combination of the preceding, to enhance the professionalism and significant advancement of Conservation Law Enforcement in the areas of Deterrence of Violations, Forensic Techniques, Equipment Development, Public Relations, Innovative Operations, and Conservation Law Enforcement Research.
During 2010, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources identified the need for a Boat Fraud and Theft Investigator as it had become apparent that that there were a significant number of thefts and other boat-related issues, including sales tax fraud, that were routinely being overlooked or otherwise undetected. It was then that the Law Enforcement division promoted an officer to the position of Boat Fraud and Theft Special Agent. This position worked independently for several years, but would often request assistance from the Conservation Police Officer (CPO) field force when conducting search warrants or serving arrest warrants.
In 2017, the Law Division recognized an increasing need in the enforcement of boat fraud and theft laws. Soon after, and as the cases were becoming more involved, the Law Enforcement division added two more Conservation Police Officers to the Special Agent’s team.
These officers began assisting the Boat Titling Section with processing title applications and quickly noted several red flags that indicated sales tax fraud. With the titling employees potentially processing hundreds of titles a week, the investigators produced actual titles that had been processed and showed signs of fraud. After noticing the extensive amounts of possible sales tax fraud, DWR Law Enforcement developed and implemented a title fraud education program to help assist the employees to better identify potential violations. The collaboration of the boat section and investigators allowed the agency to save valuable resources and funding by having titles flagged and removed for review. The violations that are detected are mostly felonies and are deliberate in cheating the Commonwealth and local jurisdictions in tax revenue.
Once the boat fraud and theft course was developed, these special agents spent a time training other CPOs during their in-service training. The course was so well received that many local jurisdictions have requested and received the training.
As time and technology continues to change, the Boat Fraud and Theft Unit looked at additional ways to investigate fraud and theft crimes. New software developments within the boat registration and titling process allowed the officers to see scanned images of documents submitted when someone registers a boat, along with documents being time- and date-stamped. This has allowed the Unit to recover watercraft sales tax monies as well as cut down on the number of people who attempt to obtain titles through fraudulent means.
As the Unit continued to work with the titling section, they began to obtain more information about boat thefts and boat insurance fraud throughout the state. They then began recovering stolen boats and developing leads on numerous cases. This has led the Unit to routinely seeking, obtaining and executing search warrants for evidence that is used to convict those exploiting insurance companies, the registration and titling process, and the victims affected by theft and fraud.
The Unit has also successfully used “bait boats” and “bait motors.” These bait boat deterrent operations have high success rates. Approximately 66% of the time a “bait” boat or motor operation is conducted, it is stolen.
Networking is also a tool that has been helpful to the Unit. Within the Agency, this unit now has the Boat Titling Section, GIS Section, Dispatch, Field Officers, and Senior Management assisting with their investigations. Outside of the Agency, the Unit has made a number of contacts that are helping from all angles. These contacts include the FBI, NCIS, Virginia State Police, SSP HEAT Unit, Virginia Association of Special Investigative Unit, Secret Service, Forensic Labs, and many local Police and Sheriff’s Departments.
Currently five CPOs have worked with the Boat Fraud and Theft Special Agent and the following are results of their work over the last three years:
Cases Developed: 362
Felony Charges: 113
Misdemeanor Charges: 155
Search Warrants: 91
Recovered Boats and Trailers: 68
Impact on Local Taxation: $263,000
Total Value of Recovered Property: $682,000
Please help us in congratulating the Special Operations Unit for their leadership and dedication to the citizens of Virginia!
If you have been a victim of boat theft or boat fraud, or have information concerning boat fraud or theft, please contact our Wildlife Crimeline at (800) 237-5712 and one of our agents will contact you.