Exclusive: Thieves may be targeting DIA parking lots

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DENVER -- On average, 11,000 people park at Denver International Airport every day. During the holidays that number is even larger.

FOX31 Denver obtained a search warrant that shows detectives believe thieves may be targeting cars at the airport as part of a larger chop-shop operation.

It became sort of a joke around Ronald Chaney’s home.

“For a Christmas party someone gave me a gift of a hubcap from a Toyota as a joke,” said Chaney.

But Chaney thought what happened at Denver International Airport was more expensive than funny, telling FOX31 Denver the insurance estimate for his losses is $3,000.

Two weeks ago, thieves hit Chaney’s 2010 Prius while he was parked in one of DIA.’s parking garages.

“I went out to my car and hit the unlock button and it lit up but something didn’t look right,” said Chaney.

His car’s tires and rims were gone, and, to evade security, the criminals replaced them with ones that were nearly worthless.

“At least they replaced it with something so I didn’t have concrete blocks to come home to, so I could actually get home that day,” Chaney says.

The city’s crime map shows airport victims have filed more than 15 reports this year for stolen car parts.

The search warrant may explain why. Agents from the Metro Auto Theft Task Force used it when they raided a Denver chop shop near Alameda and Lipan.

The task force granted FOX31 Denver exclusive access as they meticulously searched overhead and underground, recovering stolen vehicle parts for more than 15 victims.

According to the search warrant, detectives believe at least some of those victims had cars parked at Denver International Airport.

“You think you’re safe at the airport, especially when you pay $21 a day," Chaney says. "And then this happens."

Chaney expected more from airport security. He asked for surveillance video and was shocked when he says the airport told him the only cameras for garages are those used to record license plates.

According to a statement release by DIA officials, more than four million cars park at the airport every year. When that number is compared with reported crimes there are few problems, making parking at DIA extremely safe.

The airport reported no auto thefts in 2011. Because investigators can’t discuss specifics of the search warrant, it is unclear why the search warrant shows several vehicles were stolen from the airport.

DIA has security patrol the parking lot and police on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.