The state’s Automobile Theft Authority (AATA), the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Vehicle Theft Task Force (AVTTF), Mesa Police Department and the California Highway Patrol culminated a four-month investigation of a vehicle-theft ring early Thursday morning May 29, 2014, serving 10 search warrants in Mesa, Arizona and the California cities of Bakersfield and Shafter.
The criminal organization, which detectives targeted under the name “Operation Bloodhound,” had been obtaining vehicle identification numbers (VINs) from salvaged vehicles, would steal a vehicle similar to the salvaged vehicle’s VIN, switch the VIN and retitle the altered vehicles in California with the use of stolen Arizona titles.
The Arizona titles had been reported stolen in March 2012, by the Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) The search warrants yielded the recovery of 13 stolen vehicles totaling a value at over $600,000. Detectives made five arrests, one of which was the suspected leader of the criminal organization.
“The investigation initiated from a Craig’s List posting of a suspicious vehicle for sale several months ago,” said DPS Sgt. Bowers.
During the search of one of the residences in Mesa, DPS’ Highway Interdiction Team (HIT) arrested Ricardo Ochoa, 33, for possession more than 50 pounds of marijuana. He also possessed scales, a weapon and the cellophane wrappings of multiple marijuana bundles that were inside 10 large trash bags.
Locally, the street value of the marijuana is $45,000.
Ricardo Ochoa was booked into the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Jail for possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of dangerous drugs, money laundering, conspiracy, illegal conducting of an enterprise, prohibited possessor and use of a weapon in a drug offense.
All of the suspects are facing charges of trafficking in stolen property, vehicle theft, operating a criminal syndicate, fraud and tampering with vehicle identification numbers.
The Arizona Vehicle Theft Task Force (AVTTF) is comprised of city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies participating in a concerted effort to identify, apprehend, and prosecute individuals and criminal organizations that profit from the theft of motor vehicles and related crimes.