Auto theft crackdown nets dozens of stolen vehicles, 15 arrests

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Law enforcement agencies from Riverside County and other jurisdictions dismantled a Southern California car theft ring that specialized in altering vehicle identification numbers in order to sell stolen autos, with more than 100 likely going into the used car market, authorities said today.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Beaumont, Murrieta and Riverside police departments were among agencies participating in “Operation VIN City,” which concluded Thursday with multiple search warrants being served throughout the region, netting 34 vehicle recoveries and 15 arrests, according to sheriff’s officials.

The Riverside Auto Theft Interdiction Detail, or RAID, was at the forefront of the operation, which began in 2019 with investigations in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Sean Brown.

He said VIN City uncovered dozens of instances in which cars had been stolen, had their VINs changed and false documents produced in order to register them with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Initially, a dozen SUVs, pickups and sedans were confirmed to have had their VINs “switched,” and not long afterward, another 22 were uncovered.

The value of the stolen property was estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Brown.

Four men were taken into custody Thursday in Riverside County on suspicion of auto theft and other offenses — Alex Coria Rosales, 31, Jose Paleo and Francisco Sanchez, both 26, and Rolando Velasquez, 29. The other suspects were arrested in other jurisdictions.

“These individuals and their criminal organization are suspected of VIN switching more than 100 stolen vehicles, causing a significant financial impact to the victims and their communities,” the sergeant said.

Fifteen guns and an unspecified quantity of illegal drugs were additionally seized during the operation, Brown said.

RAID investigators asked anyone with information about the theft ring and VIN switching scheme to contact the task force at 951-955-2687.