HOUSTON - Nine people are suspected of being connected to an auto theft ring that netted more than $1 million in losses since the beginning of the year, authorities said.
Harris County deputies on Tuesday said Jaime Zamarron Jr., 26, Herber Viera-Baires, 27, Joshua Azpiazu, 29, Donaltila Reyes-Chicas, 25, Arther Sabala, 28, Jackie A. Gonzales, 31, Leopoldo Daniel Garcia, 26, Jonathan Ortiz, 20, and Victor Hugo Torres, 48, were identified as suspects in the case.
Investigators said the group was part of a ring that stole vehicles from 25 local dealerships and then sold those vehicles via social media and classifieds websites like Craigslist and Offer Up.
The alleged thieves stole 2009 to 2014 model GMC trucks and sport utility vehicles.
“This group targeted recent immigrants, thinking that they’re not going to report it" and that the victim would live with the $10,000-$15,000 loss, said Sgt. John T. Stamper, with the HCSO Auto Theft Division.
Buyers would only learn the vehicles were stolen when they tried to register the titles.
Investigators said the 27 people who bought the vehicles lost a total of $229,000 in the scheme. Dealerships lost $787,294, they said.
“The total number of monetary loses this year is well over a million dollars," HCSO Capt. Jesse Inocencio said.
Deputies said eight of the nine people were arrested last week during raids in northern Harris County. They said deputies found equipment and tools used to create vehicle keys, as well as open vehicle titles and other documentation used to sell the stolen vehicles.
Investigators also seized $8,600 in cash, 18 vehicles and four guns.
Torres was charged with making false statements to obtain credit. The rest of the group was charged with engaging in organized criminal activity.
Deputies said they are still looking for Azpiazu.
Investigators also believe there may be dozens more victims who haven’t come forward.
Anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-8477.
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