Authorities arrested 11 suspects and are searching for four more suspects believed to be responsible for the thefts of work vans from plumbers, painters, landscapers and construction workers in neighborhoods across the South Bay.
Fifteen members of a "criminal organization" were identified after a nine-month investigation by a joint task force into the vehicle theft, auto burglary and stolen property case, authorities said.
"The individuals we were investigating all had one thing in common," said Sgt. Joe Stairbird of the Long Beach Police Department. "They were addicted to illegal drugs, specifically methamphetamine and heroin, and the individuals all have criminal records."
The suspects, many of whom are homeless, are accused of stealing the vans, offloading the thousands of dollars in tools and equipment, and selling the vehicles, authorities said. In some cases, the vans were chopped up and sold as scrap metal.
"We estimate the tools and equipment to be half a million dollars," said Lt. Jeff Enfield of the Task Force for Regional Auto Theft Prevention.
More than 25 vehicles were recovered. Many were stolen from Long Beach, San Pedro and Redondo Beach, in addition to others from Lakewood, Norwalk and Las Vegas, officials said.
Authorities arrested Thomas Hernandez, Raymond Gonzales, Katia M. Alvarado, Mariano D. Lopez, Gerald Deegan, Shane Toseland, Tiffanie Ledesma, Edward McCrimmon, Michael Sartor, Grace Barrett and Victor M. Vergara, pictured at right.
Local news from across Southern California
Vergara spoke with NBC4 Tuesday afternoon about the death of his 21-year-old nephew, whose body was found atop a dirt pile at a Manhattan Beach park.
Still wanted are Robert Madia, Adam Kim, Byran Godinez and Willie Bartsman, pictured below.
Fifty-five felony counts were filed with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office, authorities said.
The Taskforce for Regional Autotheft Prevention consisted of members from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol, along with the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments.
More Southern California Stories:
- Sketches Released of "Road Rage" Shooter
- Mountain Fire Rages Through 22 Square Miles
- UC Regents OK Muslim Student, Despite Anti-Semitic Concerns
- Man Wrestles Shark With Bare Hands
- San Jose Police Officer Shoots, Kills Pit Bull
- 12 Arrests in Hollywood Robberies, Vandalism
- Fort Worth Demolishes Wrong Vacant Home