RAID Busts Criminal Organization’s VIN-Switch Operation, Recovers Nearly $1.5 Million-Worth of Stole
RIVERSIDE – “That is not my beautiful car.” – Imagine being scammed on the transaction of a luxury or newer car – then discover that armed, organized criminals delivered that ride to you.
When innocent purchasers of newer and luxury vehicles throughout Southern Cal., Nevada, and Arizona found themselves duped – the Riverside Auto-Theft Interdiction Detail (RAID) stepped in.
A several-month investigation, launched in 2019, focused on “a criminal organization involved in Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) switching on a high volume of stolen vehicles, many of which were sold to innocent purchasers throughout Southern California, Nevada and Arizona,” said Riverside County Sheriff’s Sergeant Sean Brown.
The massive crime-sweep mission, “Operation VIN City,” was comprised of Los Angeles Taskforce for Regional Auto-Theft Prevention (TRAP), LAPD, San Bernardino County Auto-Theft Task Force (SANCATT), Orange County Auto-Theft Task Force (OCATT), Regional Auto-Theft Task Force – San Diego (RATT), California Highway Patrol – Border Division, Southern Division and Inland Division, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Arizona Regional Auto-Theft Team Law Enforcement Response (RATTLER), Gilbert Police Department – Arizona, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms (ATF), Gardena Police Department, Huntington Park Police Department, Riverside County Regional Gang Task Force, Riverside Sheriff’s Departments – SWAT, Lake Elsinore SET, Perris SET, and Special Investigations Bureau, Riverside Police Department, Beaumont Police Department, Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Department of Motor Vehicles Investigations, National Insurance Crime Bureau, California Department of Insurance, Cathedral City Police Department, and Murrieta Police Department.
RAID’s far-reaching collaboration ID’d “several residences in Riverside, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties where these suspects would fraudulently create DMV documents, temporary dealer license plates, VINs and other materials necessary to fraudulently register these vehicles with the DMV,” said Sgt. Brown.
“All the vehicles identified throughout this investigation were newer models, and included several luxury manufacturers such as Land Rover, BMW, Bentley, and Mercedes.”
As if that wasn’t insidious enough, as RAID sought the perpetrators of the multi-level ruse, the investigation revealed that “Many of these vehicles were provided to other criminal associates involved with the distribution and sales of narcotics and many were sold to innocent purchasers,” added Sgt. Brown.
Preliminary results brought in 12 VIN-switched stolen vehicles, some bought by unsuspecting customers at independent auto dealerships through bank financing. Others were transacted via social media apps.
A multi-agency search-warrant service beginning at 7 AM on 05/21/2020 landed at multiple locales in Riverside, Orange, and L.A. Counties.
The successful operation resulted in the recovery of an additional 22 VIN-switched stolen vehicles, arrests of 15 suspects, and seizure of 15 firearms and illegal drugs.
“The total value of the 34 vehicles recovered by RAID was approximately 1.5 million dollars. Among those arrested were Alex Coria Rosales (31), Rolando Velasquez (29), Jose Paleo (26) and Francisco Sanchez (26).” Said Sgt. Brown, “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.”
RAID’s primary mission is to investigate, arrest, and prosecute criminals responsible for auto-theft. These suspects are frequently involved in additional criminal behavior – including weapons-possession, narcotics trafficking, and other violent crimes which impact the community. Additionally, RAID Task Force is committed to aggressively investigating all crimes associated with auto-theft.
Forewarned is forearmed: The RAID Task Force urges, “If you come across a vehicle for sale and the price seems too good to be true, many times there is a reason. This is an ongoing investigation and if you have information or believe you were possibly a victim of a VIN switched vehicle, please contact the RAID Task Force or Detective Bercian at 951-955-2687.”