A 49-year-old Columbia man was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for his role in a scheme to steal vehicles and have them shipped overseas.
Federal prosecutors say Asomah Maamah helped ship at least 17 vehicles worth more than $800,000 overseas. The mostly high-end vehicles - one was valued at $90,000 - included rental cars obtained through fraud, and vehicles stolen directly from their owners.
The vehicles were then loaded onto shipping containers declared for exportation to foreign countries, most often Africa, prosecutors said. Maamah and others created paperwork that falsified the value of the vehicles.
Maamah was stopped by Howard County police and agents from the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Border Enforcement Security Team in January 2019, after he arrived at a location that was under surveillance by police because a stolen 2019 Toyota 4-Runner was parked there. Maamah “largely denied any knowledge of the exportation of stolen vehicles, and claimed not to have been involved with shipping any vehicles for years,” according to his plea agreement.
Maamah claimed that a company registered in his name, Chelsea Motors, had been used to ship vehicles without his knowledge.
But a search of his phone showed he communicated with shipping companies to facilitate the shipment of stolen vehicles, and photos of stolen vehicles.
“Additionally, investigators found a WhatsApp conversation where Maamah and another person were messaging about a container number that was interdicted at the Baltimore port and found to contain two falsely declared and fraudulently obtained/stolen vehicles,” his plea agreement says.
When Maamah was arrested in March 2020, he was inside a vehicle that had been fraudulently rented from a rental company and was overdue to be returned.
It is not clear whether other people have been charged in connection with the scheme.
Judge George L. Russell III imposed the sentence federal prosecutors were seeking, to be followed by three years of supervised release and also ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $195,281.20.