Cops bust auto theft ring

Most of the 50 stolen cars police recovered were Hondas, seen

Gilroy
– The fruits of a five-month operation by federal, state and
local law enforcement agencies were revealed Monday just off U.S.
101 in Gilroy.
Stolen cars hidden under gray covers have been sitting in a neat
row at the California Highway Patrol inspection facility for
several weeks, and the covers came off as officials revealed they
made 17 felony arrests in a weekend sting.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – The fruits of a five-month operation by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were revealed Monday just off U.S. 101 in Gilroy.

Stolen cars hidden under gray covers have been sitting in a neat row at the California Highway Patrol inspection facility for several weeks, and the covers came off as officials revealed they made 17 felony arrests in a weekend sting.

The California Highway Patrol and other agencies busted the organized auto theft ring that officials say was tied to criminal street gangs. An undercover investigation by officers spanned five counties, including Santa Clara and San Benito, and was dubbed “Operation Honda Express” because most of the cars stolen by the suspects were Hondas.

Investigating officers had set up a store front in Watsonville where they purchased stolen vehicles and parts from suspects. The average price for each of the stolen vehicles was $500.

Before the weekend, officers had recovered 38 vehicles and identified 22 suspects – 13 of them associated with gangs, said Capt. Jon Lopey with the CHP in Salinas.

“We had 150 officers from a number of federal, state, and local agencies and we served arrest warrants at 15 locations,” Lopey said.

At the end of the weekend sting, officers had recovered 12 more vehicles, for a total of 50 worth $400,000, Lopey said. They arrested five new suspects and 12 of the previously identified suspects. Seven more are outstanding, Lopey said.

Included in the charges against the suspects are grand theft, receiving stolen property, auto theft, criminal conspiracy, and some face drug trafficking and gang charges, Lopey said. The Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s office is pursuing the cases, he said.

The investigation involved the CHP, Monterey and Santa Cruz Sheriff’s offices, Watsonville, Gilroy, and Salinas police, the Santa Cruz DA, the ATF, and the Santa Cruz auto theft task force. It focused on Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, as most of the vehicles were stolen out of the suspects’ own neighborhoods in Salinas. Six cars were stolen in Watsonville, two in Tulare County, and one each in Hollister, Marina, Castroville and San Jose.

Victims were allowed to pick up their vehicles from the CHP facility in Gilroy Monday afternoon.

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