What You Need to Know About Operating a Chop Shop in Florida

April 7, 2022 Criminal Defense

In February 2022, a chop shop in St. Lucie County made headlines when, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, stolen cars were being stripped for parts and sold, and vehicle identification numbers (VIN) were being cloned for other cars. Deputies stated the shop was just a piece of a much larger investigation, as some of the recovered cars were taken from West Palm Beach and Orlando. This headline is similar to one that gained attention in 2020 when more than 15 cars were stolen from auctions, dealers, and shops and found during a Jacksonville investigation of an auto theft ring and chop shop operation. So, what is a “chop shop” and what are the rules and regulations around them in Florida? This blog will dive into those questions!  

Defining “Chop Shops”

Generally, a “chop shop” will appear as if it is a body shop but is really an illegal business that either dismantles stolen motor vehicles and distributes their parts, uses the parts to build illegal motor vehicles, or sells the parts to a scrap yard. Under Section 812.16 of the Florida Statutes, a “chop shop” is defined as:

  1. Any area, building, storage lot, field, or other premises or place where one or more persons are engaged or have engaged in altering, dismantling, reassembling, or in any way concealing or disguising the identity of a stolen motor vehicle or of any major component part of a stolen motor vehicle;
  2. Where there are two or more stolen motor vehicles present; or
  3. Where there are major component parts from two or more stolen motor vehicles present.

A “major component part” may include the following subassemblies of a motor vehicle, regardless of its market value:

  • Fenders
  • Grills
  • Hoods
  • Bumpers
  • Engines
  • Transmissions
  • T-Tops
  • Doors
  • Tires
  • Tire Wheels
  • Continuous Treads
  • Rear-clip assembly
  • Frame and frame assembly


Under Section 812.16, any person who knowingly owns, operates, or conducts a chop shop or who knowingly aids and abets another person in owning, operating, or conducting a chop shop is guilty of a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and 5 years of probation. Furthermore, a person who is convicted under this law may be ordered to pay restitution to the rightful owner of the stolen motor vehicle or major component part, to the owner’s insurer if the owner has already been compensated for the loss by the insurer, or for any financial loss sustained as a result of the theft of the motor vehicle or major component part. Restitution may be imposed as an additional punishment to any imprisonment or fine imposed, but it cannot be imposed in lieu thereof.

Furthermore, if you are found in violation of this statute, the following are subject to forfeiture:

  1. Any stolen motor vehicle or major component part found at the site of a chop shop or any motor vehicle or major component part for which there is probable cause to believe that it is stolen but for which the true owner cannot be identified.
  2. Any engine, tool, machine, implement, device, chemical, or substance used or designed for altering, dismantling, reassembling, or in any other way concealing or disguising the identity of a stolen motor vehicle or any major component part.
  3. A wrecker, car hauler, or other motor vehicle that is knowingly used or has been used to convey or transport a stolen motor vehicle or major component part.

Junkyard vs. Chop Shop – What’s the Difference?

Although you may have seen a news story where individuals running a junkyard were arrested for selling stolen vehicles, junkyards are generally legal operations. This is because a legally operated junkyard must be licensed by the county and state they operate in, as well as be certified by the EPA to collect hazardous materials to ensure they are disposed of properly. This differs greatly from a chop shop, which will often attempt to hide the vehicles on their premises and strip them quickly so their parts can be distributed. It is imperative to ensure you are actually buying parts from a legal junkyard, as you may face legal repercussions for buying stolen parts from a chop shop.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

Whether you own a body shop, are an employee at one, or bought parts from one, if you face charges in connection with operating a chop shop, contact an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against a wide variety of charges and will ensure every defense is explored in your favor.  Call us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney on our team.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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