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Dozens charged with vehicle theft in San Diego County

September 15, 2011 |  4:14 pm

Cars As befits a region that is sensitive about its public image, San Diego County officials generally want their home to be listed at the top of nationwide rankings: most wonderful beaches, most friendly restaurants, most days of good weather, etc.

One listing got under the locals' skin: In 2007, the county was listed third in the nation in auto thefts per 100,000 residents, with 27,073 vehicles stolen.

So a task force of law enforcement agencies was formed to catch the thieves.

Last year, the number of stolen vehicles was 13,707 and the ranking had dropped to 15.

And on Thursday, 33 more indictments were announced after a six-month undercover operation by the Regional Auto Theft Task Force and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The operation netted 53 stolen vehicles and a collection of firearms and drugs. Suspects were taped offering stolen cars, drugs and weapons to undercover cops.

Hotspots for vehicle theft, investigators said, were the parking lots of fitness centers, daycare centers and beaches. Residential burglars often take car keys and return later to steal a car.

Of the 33, 27 are in jail, many to be arraigned Friday in San Diego County Superior Court. The work of the task force continues, officials said at a news conference.

"We're on the right track," said Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis.


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--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis and law enforcement officials display weapons seized by a six-month undercover probe of vehicle theft. Credit: San Diego County district attorney’s office.