Undercover operation in San Diego County nets stolen cars, guns, military equipment

Current, former military personnel involved

SAN DIEGO - An eight-month undercover operation in North County netted 92 stolen vehicles worth nearly $700,000, as well as guns, drugs and stolen military equipment, authorities said Thursday.

Sixty-four defendants -- including two active-duty military personnel and six ex-military employees -- were indicted as a result of "Operation Perfect Storm," San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said.

Prosecutors said some of those indicted remain at large. Nearly 100 were arrested in the operation, according to prosecutors.

NCIS investigators said seven active Marines and seven former Marines were among those arrested for allegedly selling items stolen from Camp Pendleton -- items such as Kevlar helmets, high-capacity magazines, night vision goggles, gas masks and bullet-proof vests.

Beside the military gear, the sting netted more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition and high-capacity magazines.

While investigators didn't go into specifics, they did say the thieves were connected to the base's supply chain.

"It's a big system, it's a complex system, and as you can see, some of these items can fall through the cracks," said John Wagner, executive assistant director of Pacific Operations, NCIS.

Investigators said instead of one large ring, the sting attracted dozens of smaller groups accused of trying to hawk more than 90 stolen cars, along with drugs, but some of the sellers apparently had some bonus items because of their military access.

The "indictments mean dozens of car thieves who were also trafficking guns and drugs in the North County have been shut down," Dumanis said. The suspects were invited to a undisclosed North County storefront to sale their wares and were recorded on video while selling undercover detectives stolen cars, firearms and ammunition.

The defendants, arrested Tuesday, face charges including insurance fraud, vehicle theft, drug sales and possession of military stolen property. The operation was conducted by the Regional Auto Theft Task Force in cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

More than a dozen were arraigned in court Thursday, and some of the military personnel will also be facing a military court-martial.