COAST CITIES — An eight-month undercover auto theft operation zoomed in on local gangs and resulted in a grand jury indictment of 34 defendants on Dec. 17, according to the district attorney’s office in San Diego.
More than $300,000 worth of stolen vehicles were recovered, which is the value of the 38 cars seized during the operation, according to officials.
Twelve guns were also seized.
“Operation Gangbusters’’ launched in March by the Regional Auto Theft Task Force, or RATT, to help combat auto thefts in North County.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and Homeland Security Investigations, or HIS, also cooperated with RATT to uncover the auto theft operation.
“Dozens of gang-related car thieves have been put out of business thanks to extraordinary cooperation between RATT and ICE HSI,” said Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County District Attorney. “RATT’s hard work continues to have a significant impact, lowering auto theft dramatically in the past few years.”
“In Escondido, auto thefts are way up. That’s one of the areas they concentrated on,” said Steve Walker, spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office.
During the investigations, authorities discovered drugs, illegal weapons and insurance fraud cases, which they were also able to charge individuals with, according to the district attorney’s office.
The areas targeted included Escondido, Vista, Oceanside and Carlsbad, according to Richard Madrigal, who is part of RATT.
The defendants committed various crimes in the roles they played as part of the auto theft operation.
“Some of them set up deals, negotiated with officers to purchase cars or went as lookouts,” Madrigal said.
Nearly one-third of those indicted were women.
Madrigal said one of the most culpable people of the 34 was a woman who sold five cars, methamphetamine and a gun.
“One of the top three or four people was a woman,” Madrigal said.
At the beginning of December, after the conclusion of the undercover operation, an indictment was returned for all 34 people.
Some of the 34 people who were indicted were already in prison or in jail, Madrigal said.
There are a few who are outstanding.
The punishments are on an individual basis and vary.
“People did a lot of different things. One guy sold six cars, one guy acted as a lookout. There are a lot of different levels of culpability,” Madrigal said.
Prosecutors are requesting one person receive 16 years and four months prison, while another person only faces probation, he said.
According to RATT, 2010 auto theft statistics for San Diego County indicate that Honda makes all the top 10 stolen vehicles. They include Honda Accords and Honda Civics produced in different years. The 1996 Honda Accord is the No. 1 most stolen vehicle.