An undercover operation by local law enforcement has exposed auto theft rings across the North County and resulted in the arrest of dozens of suspects accused of trafficking not only stolen cars, but also guns, drugs and stolen military equipment.
On Thursday, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and officials from multiple law enforcement agencies held a news conference at the Hall of Justice to announce the results of a 10-month undercover sting led by the Regional Auto Theft Task Force (RATT).
Dumanis says the sting – dubbed “Operation Perfect Storm” – launched in August 2012 and focused on North County criminal groups specializing in auto theft and other forms of criminal activity.
Dumanis says auto theft suspects were invited to a storefront in the North County manned by undercover officials. There, the suspects were videotaped selling a variety of stolen items to undercover detectives including stolen cars, firearms and narcotics.
Dumanis says the suspects also sold stolen military contraband, including military-grade, tactical, bulletproof vests, helmets, night-vision goggles, gas masks and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition and high-capacity magazines.
According to investigators, the high-tech night-vision goggles are worth approximately $70,000 and were allegedly stolen by two Camp Pendleton marines.
Altogether, Dumanis says 92 stolen vehicles were recovered in the sting worth nearly $700,000. Nine firearms were also recovered, as well as quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine.
A total of 64 defendants were targeted and indicted by a grand jury in this operation, and 30 cases were presented to a grand jury by the county DA’s office.
Dumanis says arrest warrants were issued on Monday and defendants were arrested on Tuesday. Many of the defendants were scheduled to be arraigned in court on Thursday.
Officials say the defendants, depending on their backgrounds, face various felony charges including insurance fraud, vehicle theft, sales of cocaine and meth, grand theft, burglary and felony possession of guns and high-capacity magazines. Some could face up to 25 years in state prison.
“It’s clear from this operation that an auto thief’s criminal network often goes well beyond stealing cars and trucks.,” Dumanis said on Thursday. “The latest RATT operation has shut down crime rings in the county that are also trafficking in guns, stolen military equipment and drugs.”
The DA said RATT’s work has been instrumental in decreasing auto theft across San Diego County. Dumanis said vehicle theft is down across the county, with San Diego going from third in the nation to sixteenth in the nation over the years.
RATT Commander Scott Parker, who led the operation, spoke about the bust Thursday. He said RATT is a multi-agency task force comprised of local, state and federal officials whose mission is to pursue “professional auto thieves” and infiltrate their auto theft organizations.
Officials from Homeland Security, ICE, the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and Escondido Police Department were also present, as well as several deputy district attorneys.
Some of the evidence seized in the sting was unveiled Thursday (photos above and below), as well as photos of the defendants connected with this operation.