Originally created 02/08/00

Barnwell man charged with running chop shop



BARNWELL, S.C. -- A Barnwell County man has been charged with operating a chop shop out of his auto-body business.

Richard Peterson, 31, was arrested Friday, ending a six-month investigation that involved six agencies, including the State Law Enforcement Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Peterson is being held at the Barnwell County Detention Center on a $43,000 bond. He is charged with four counts of operating a chop shop and nine counts of receiving and selling stolen goods, Sheriff Joey Zorn said.

Mr. Peterson, who owns Auto Image/Barnwell Paint and Body, was apparently working with someone in Florida who would steal the vehicles and have them sent to his shop on Dunbarton Boulevard, police say. He was dismantling some stolen cars for parts and altering the appearance of others for sale intact, police say.

So far, 14 vehicles -- the oldest a 1995 model -- have been confiscated. The cars, mostly late-model pickup trucks and sports cars, are worth an estimated $400,000.

Sheriff Zorn said most of the cars were stolen from the Jacksonville International Airport. After months of following tips called into the Duvall and Clay County sheriff's departments, the trail led to Mr. Peterson, he said.

Deputies first arrested Mr. Peterson on Friday and charged him with the remaining felonies Monday.

The investigation continues, and more arrests are expected, the sheriff said.

Authorities are asking people who purchased vehicles from Mr. Peterson in the past two years to contact the Barnwell County Sheriff's Department at (803) 541-1078.

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.