Stolen Mercedes leads to suspected O.C. car theft ring
The recovery of a stolen Mercedes-Benz by Irvine police this week has led to the arrest of four people, including a man they believe was involved in multiple car thefts and burglaries in Irvine, police announced.
Officers saw a Mercedes-Benz with a paper license plate speeding on Lake Forest Drive about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday and followed it into a neighborhood where the driver and two passengers pulled into a residential driveway, turned off the headlights and ducked down, according to a release from the Irvine Police Department.
As officers approached, the driver, who police identified as Michael Harding, 34, started the engine and rapidly backed out of the driveway. Harding and two female passengers quickly abandoned the vehicle in another nearby driveway, the release stated.
Responding authorities arrested one of the passengers, Sarah Faas, 31, in a nearby backyard on suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia. The other was found at a bus stop by an Orange County sheriff's deputy and detained but released without charges.
The Mercedes-Benz had been reported stolen from Panorama City in September, and when Irvine police searched it, they found more than a dozen California driver's licenses, 60 credit cards from about 20 different people, burglary tools and forged identification.
A detective also found a fake ID for Harding, whom he recognized as a suspect in a vehicle theft in September near Sand Canyon Avenue and the 405 Freeway, according to the release.
Police said they pegged Harding as a suspect after he used a credit card that was left in the stolen vehicle.
Officers arrested Harding about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at a shopping center near where he allegedly stole the car. He was meeting James Deroze, 27, a parolee, who was also arrested on suspicion of possessing a fake ID, booked in Orange County Jail and held on $20,000 bail, police said.
Harding was arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft, vehicle burglary, commercial burglary, possession of stolen property, resisting arrest, fraudulent use of a credit card and possession of burglary tools. He is also being held on two outstanding warrants for alleged burglaries in San Diego County.
Irvine police said they believe Harding was involved in at least one more car theft in Orange County and one more vehicle burglary in Irvine.
Police also contacted Phillip Alano, an alleged associate of Harding, whom they arrested on suspicion of identity-theft related crimes. He is being held at Orange County Jail on $20,000 bail, according to the release.
--Jeremiah Dobruck, Times Community News