64 indicted, including military personnel, in San Diego auto theft sting

San Diego authorities arrested 50 suspects in an undercover auto theft sting operation that also netted nearly $700,000 in stolen military gear, guns and drugs.

A total of 64 people were indicted -- including seven Marines, one sailor and seven former Marines -- as a result of the eight-month effort dubbed "Operation Perfect Storm," District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said. Fourteen suspects have not yet been taken into custody.

"It's clear that criminal activity often goes well beyond just stealing cars," Dumanis told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Dumanis said undercover detectives seized 92 stolen vehicles, nine guns, 10,000 rounds of ammunition and military equipment from Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base.

California Highway Patrol Commander Scott Parker said the Regional Auto Theft Task Force (RATT), in cooperation with other agencies, launched the probe in August 2012 using undercover officers to infiltrate unrelated crime rings in San Diego County. Thirty separate cases involving the 64 defendants were presented to a county grand jury in May, and arrests warrants were issued earlier this week.

Some of the other agencies working with RATT included Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and insurance companies.

An announcement issued by the San Diego District Attorney's office lists the various charges the suspects face, including auto theft, insurance fraud, sales of methamphetamine and cocaine, being a felon in possession of firearms, possession of stolen goods, and burglary. Suspects in the investigation will face sentences based on their criminal background including probation to 25 years behind bars.

The announcement also details some of the military equipment stolen from Camp Pendleton, which includes tactical vests, helmets, night vision goggles and gas masks.

"The dedicated work of RATT and the resulting indictments means dozens of car thieves who were also trafficking guns and drugs in the North County have been shut down," Dumanis said.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones echoed Dumanis' enthusiasm. "Through solid investigative work and collaboration this task force effectively ... [put] a stop to this criminal enterprise," he said.

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