Over 100 Stolen Cars Returned to Owners in Undercover Operation in San Diego County - NBC 7 San Diego

Over 100 Stolen Cars Returned to Owners in Undercover Operation in San Diego County

The county has gone from being number three in the nation for car thefts to number 15, which is a marked improvement, according to Chief Deputy DA Stephan.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    32 Suspects Arrested After Months-Long Undercover Operation

    SDPD's Regional Auto Theft Task Force set up a fake chop shop in Lemon Grove where alleged car thieves would sell their stolen cars. NBC 7's Artie Ojeda has more on the big sting. (Published Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016)

    What to Know

    • San Diego County currently has about 10,000 auto thefts reported each year, according to local law enforcement.

    • The best precautions to avoid a car theft are to keep your vehicle locked with a well maintained alarm system, and keep track of your keys.

    • Most common stolen vehicles are Honda Accord and Civic models from the 90s, according to ATF official.

    Over 100 stolen vehicles have been returned to their rightful owners and 43 suspected car thieves were arrested in a 10-month long undercover operation spearheaded by the Regional Auto-Theft Task Force (RATT).

    “In this operation that we call quick boost, the defendants were stealing cars from victims in San Diego and they were selling the vehicles to a place that was undercover – a store front – in order to break up the car into small pieces,” said Summer Stephan, Chief Deputy District Attorney of San Diego County.

    Law enforcement shut down the store front located in the Lemon Grove area of East County, putting dozens of car thieves out of business. They hope future potential thieves realize that auto theft isn't a profitable business in San Diego County.

    The suspects believed they were selling cars to customers, when the vehicles were actually bought by undercover police officers and agents, said Chief Deputy DA Stephan. In total, the stolen cars discovered through the RATT operation were valued at more than a million dollars.

    The multi-agency task force led by California Highway Patrol (CHP) was launched in January of 2016 and culminated Tuesday in the arrests of 43 suspected car theft suspects, said RATT Commander Don Goodbrand.

    “To be able to recover these stolen vehicles and return them to their rightful owner was especially rewarding to myself and my staff,” said Goodbrand, at a press meeting.

    Lots of local agencies across San Diego County worked together to discover about ten main criminal groups that run car-theft operations, said law enforcement officials.

    In addition to stealing cars, many of these criminal groups were involved in gun trades and drug deals.

    Law enforcement agencies seized 51 illegal firearms off the street, along with five pounds of methamphetamine, three kilograms of cocaine and 15 pounds of marijuana, according to Goodbrand.

    The hard work and collaboration of agencies such as RATT has helped lead to the decline of auto theft in San Diego County, said Chief Deputy DA Stephan. The county has recently gone from being number three in the nation for auto-theft to number 15.

    “That is many less victims that wake up to find that they can’t get to a doctor’s appointment, they can’t get to work to put food on the table, they can’t get to their jobs,” said Stephan. "Some suffer losing a job because they don’t have a car, they don’t have insurance to replace it.”

    About 10,000 vehicles are stolen in San Diego County each year, according to Stephan. Law enforcement officials hope this trend will continue to steadily decline.

    There are currently 32 suspects in custody with ten suspects still at large. There is also one outstanding federal suspect involved, which will be handled by the federal authorities.

    On Friday morning at 10 a.m., the suspects held in custody will be arraigned in court, according to the DA's officials.

    The investigation into these auto thefts is still ongoing. If anyone has information on the ten suspects still at large, they can contact RATT at 888-835-5728.

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