NORTH EAST -- State police yesterday shut down two Cecil County car dealerships that investigators believe were used as chop shops, handling millions of dollars worth of stolen cars and parts from mid-Atlantic states.
The shops -- B&H; Auto Parts in the 1500 block of Pulaski Highway and Paradise Motors in the 900 block -- were closed at 8 a.m. when 53 officers from the state police and several local agencies served a search warrant based on evidence from an 18-month investigation.
"This is an extremely large operation," said Michael J. McKelvin, a state police spokesman. "We are just starting. It could turn out to be much bigger."
Investigators found 2,000 cars at B&H; Auto Parts and 1,200 cars at Paradise Motors, he said, and were collecting identification numbers to determine whether the cars are stolen.
"It is going to take about two days to inventory all the cars and other property," Mr. McKelvin said, adding that no charges have been filed.
The owners of the shops could not be reached for comment.
The cars -- ranging in value from an older-model Ford Pinto to a late-model Honda Accord -- are suspected of being stolen from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Washington, New Jersey and Virginia.
Mr. McKelvin said police do not know whether anyone from the dealerships was stealing the cars, but they are suspected of selling stolen parts and providing the tools and a place to dismantle the cars.
Dealerships selling stolen car parts, commonly known as chop shops, are relatively rare, police say. Usually cars are stolen for joy riding or to be used in another crime such as robbery or selling drugs.
The last raid of this kind was in March 1994, when state police seized $165,000 in stolen cars and parts from Kingsway Motors in the 1400 block of Cherry Hill Road in the Baltimore. One person was arrested in that case.
Typically, chop shops dismantle stolen cars and sell the parts to unsuspecting motorists for a cheaper price than a dealership, Mr. McKelvin said.
At the North East shops, police found an engine from a car stolen in Virginia and a door from a Cadillac stolen in Virginia.
State police began investigating the shops during the summer of 1994 after troopers stopped stolen cars along I-95 in Cecil and Harford counties, Mr. McKelvin said.
Under questioning, the drivers told troopers that they had gotten the cars from the two shops.
Police from Baltimore City, Washington, and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties participated in yesterday's raid.
Mr. McKelvin said the shops will probably be closed through the weekend.
Pub Date: 3/08/96