Stolen Motorcycles Turning Into Big Business For Cartels

Motorcycle thieves are making big money in San Diego County, and authorities said what sets these thieves apart is their equipment, methods and who they work for.

Authorities said the thieves wear bulletproof vests and pack armor-piercing bullets. They also plan their heists carefully, spending time watching their targets and doing counter-surveillance on those who are trying to catch them.

"It funds whatever they need to fund -- weapons, payouts," an undercover officer told investigative reporter Mitch Blacher. "It wasn't until the profit was seen by the cartels that they wanted a piece of it."

Authorities said organized groups and drug cartels started putting their hands into sport bike theft, not because they're into sport bikes, but because it represents a dollar figure.

"So, this is more than motorcycle theft?" asked Blacher. "Is it really a mechanism for the cartels to make money and run their drug operations?"

"Yeah, I think it's all intertwined," responded an undercover officer.

A police informant who used to work for drug cartels told the 10News I-Team thieves can make thousands of dollars a bike and there are big penalties for not delivering the merchandise.

"If they ask you for something, for a motorcycle, for a car and you just don't bring it or something, they just go ahead and get rid of you, because you're not good," the informant said.

Authorities said San Diego County has more motorcycles stolen per capita every year than anywhere else in the country.

Los Angeles County has a population nearly three times that of San Diego County, and has roughly the same number of motorcycles stolen each year.