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50 people charged, 172 stolen cars recovered after major auto theft operation

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Posted at 7:56 PM, Aug 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-01 11:13:49-04

LA MESA, Calif. (KGTV) — Thursday, the San Diego Regional Auto Theft Task Force (RATT) announced that 50 people have been charged and 172 stolen cars, worth an estimated $3.3 million, were recovered following a major auto theft operation.

RATT launched Operation Sunrise last September.

The task force is made up of several local and state agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, local police departments, and the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.

"Undercover officers assigned to the task force were able to infiltrate organized auto theft rings which were operating throughout San Diego County," said CHP Capt. Charles Leonard.

The operation was conducted at an undercover storefront in East County.

While at the storefront, the suspects were captured on video selling

stolen vehicles, firearms, ammunition, and narcotics to undercover detectives.

"There's a whole network of individuals involved in criminal activity victimizing our community," Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said.

Fifty people have been indicted on charges ranging from auto and identity theft to illegal firearm possession and selling drugs.

Currently, 31 of the 50 suspects have been arrested.

"Auto theft is on the rise, and San Diego County, throughout the state, in 2022 was number 3 in auto thefts," Capt. Leonard said.

Officers also seized 14 firearms, including several ghost guns, and 300 grams of narcotics.

La Mesa Police Chief Ray Sweeney, who serves as the task force's Executive Chair, said cracking down on auto thefts is important because stolen cars are often used to commit other crimes.

"ATM thefts. Most of all of those are stolen vehicles. Robberies. Street robberies, rolling up on somebody either with a gun by force or fear taking their property usually are done with stolen vehicles," he said.

All of the cars were returned to their owners.

If the suspects are convicted, prison sentences can range from 16 months to 17 years.