HOUSTON – The Houston Police Department shared troubling details Wednesday about a major auto theft ring operating in the city over the last five years.
The accused ringleader, Mazimiliano Rodriguez, is accused of preying on homeless, drug-addicted people to steal for him in exchange for a place to stay and easy money.
Twenty-five charges have been filed and 23 arrests made of the suspects police say are responsible for hundreds of vehicle thefts.
Rodriguez, 33, is believed to be responsible for at least $10 million worth of vehicles stolen by the ring.
How the theft operation worked
Detectives identified Rodriguez as an auto theft suspect in 2021. Mazimiliano Rodriguez also goes by “Max”.
Since then, Lt. Tolan Harding with HPD’s Auto Crimes Task Force says Rodriguez has been arrested several times.
“On June 7, 2022, during a downtown event, auto crimes task force officers and the downtown crime suppression team officers observed Max breaking into vehicles, disabling the alarms and a second party would drive off with the stolen vehicle,” says Harding.
At one point, detectives obtained a search warrant for Rodriguez’ phone, linking him to 33 stolen vehicles worth $2.7 million.
But being on house arrest didn’t stop Rodriguez.
Detectives tell KPRC 2 Rodriguez recruited and trained numerous individuals, particularly homeless individuals or those addicted to drugs to work for him and steal luxury cars.
“He was out on bond, he isolated himself by hiring his workers, preying on homeless, drug addicted people to work for him,” Harding says.
Once they agreed, Rodriguez is accused of providing his “workers” with a stolen vehicle to drive, various equipment and training on how to steal high-end vehicles.
Following the training, investigators say Rodriguez sent his crew members out into apartment complexes, businesses, and commercial parking garages to steal high-end pickup trucks and cars. Rodriguez would often scout luxury apartment complexes in the Galleria, downtown and Heights areas of the city during the day to locate vehicles he would later send his workers to steal.
Once the vehicles were stolen, investigators say Rodriguez had a sophisticated network of drop locations and stash houses to hide them. Most of the vehicles were sold on apps - such as Facebook and OfferUp - to unsuspecting buyers. Rodriguez reportedly sold the vehicles with fictitious documents and altered Vehicle Identification Numbers, thereby creating two separate victims for each vehicle stolen.
One of the suspects, Juan Luna, 33, was arrested on Sept. 26 after he was charged with stealing a vehicle owned by Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, Mr. Reggie Jackson, on August 29.
Suspects still wanted
Two suspects, Adrian Anthony Longoria, 20, and Devani Laguna, 18, are still on the run and wanted for their roles in the theft ring.
One man who was targeted by the group tells KPRC 2′s Bryce Newberry that he almost had his brand-new truck stolen near Minute Maid Park following an Astros game.
Two of the alleged criminals disconnected the horn and navigation system. He says it appeared they knew exactly what they were doing.
Anyone with information about wanted suspects Adrian Longoria or Devani Laguna is urged to contact Crime Stoppers of Houston at 713-222-TIPS for anonymous tips with a reward up to $5,000 for leading to their whereabouts.