Crime and Courts

Operation Sunrise nets 50 arrests, 172 stolen cars, 14 firearms

The San Diego area ranked as the third-highest among California counties for vehicle theft in 2022

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A yearlong undercover investigation into auto theft, drug offenses and an array of associated crimes in the San Diego area netted dozens of arrests this week, authorities reported Thursday.

The multi-agency investigation, dubbed Operation Sunrise, dismantled crime rings throughout the county and resulted in a total of 100 pending prosecutions, according to the San Diego Regional Auto Theft Task Force, which headed the effort.

Undercover officers worked out of an undercover storefront in El Cajon, where the sun rises, hence the name of Operation Sunrise.

Officers relied on word-of-mouth and instead of reaching out to suspects to buy and sell from, they let the suspects come to them. Investigators said the suspects range in age from their early 20s up to their 50s.

The investigation began last September, just as San Diego auto theft rates surged. In 2022, San Diego County was third in the state for auto theft.

“We have a very large population in our county," San Diego District Attorney division chief John Philpott said at a news conference on Thursday." We are on an international border. That is the type of thing that is a recipe for making auto theft attractive to certain people.”

On Wednesday, personnel with various local law enforcement agencies arrested 31 people indicted by a grand jury in the case, RATT reported. Nineteen suspects remain at large.

The defendants will face various felony charges, including burglary; grand theft; insurance fraud; vehicle and identity theft; possession of stolen property; being felons in possession of firearms; selling cocaine, fentanyl and methamphetamine; and illegal sales of guns, ammunition and high-capacity firearm magazines.

Over the course of the 12-month operation, authorities seized illicit narcotics and 14 firearms — including ghost guns — and recovered 172 stolen vehicles with an estimated combined value of $3.3 million, officials said.

Last year, a total of 198,538 vehicles were stolen statewide, representing an estimated $1.76 billion in losses to the victims, RATT reported.

The suspects face sentences ranging from 16 months to 17 years. Arraignments for those in custody will begin on Friday and continue into next week.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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