Updated June 21, 2021 - 3:29 pm
Authorities have arrested 28 people linked to a local vehicle theft ring, Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Shane Womack announced Monday.
Eighteen defendants were arrested in Clark County, and 10 were arrested in California and Arizona, Womack said. They face a total of 152 felony charges after investigators recovered 19 stolen vehicles, 16 of which police said were “VIN-switched,” which means that the vehicle’s original vehicle identification numbers had been switched in an attempt to conceal that the vehicles were stolen.
Police also seized seven firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and a number of illegal drugs, including about 2,500 fentanyl pills, Womack said. They also recovered more than $15,000 cash.
“This is an excellent example of the resources, not just in Southern Nevada but in the entire state,” Womack said. “And everybody working together to combat crime. This is also a great example for the public to see the correlation between auto theft as well as other major felonies and violent crime.”
Metro detectives along with investigators from Nevada Highway Patrol, the Nevada Department of Public Safety and the National Insurance Crime Bureau worked the case as part of the Southern Nevada Auto Theft Task Force. The task force was assisted by a group known as VIPER, which stands for Vehicle Investigation Project for Enforcement and Recovery.
At the end of 2020, VIPER began investigating the VIN-switching operation, which led police to obtain and execute search warrants Thursday in Metro’s Spring Valley patrol area.
In a news release Monday afternoon, Metro described the case as an active investigation.
As of May, Metro had reported a 26 percent increase in vehicle thefts throughout its jurisdiction this year, with thieves particularly targeting older-model Chevrolet Silverados and Tahoes as well as Ford F-150 pickups and Honda Civics and Accords.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has said that part of the problem can be blamed on black market demand for catalytic converters, which contain valuable metals rhodium and palladium. The converters are installed on vehicles to decrease carbon monoxide emissions, and police throughout the valley have said that thieves are cutting the devices from vehicles, then selling them on the black market or at scrap yards.
Police have said several steps can be taken by vehicle owners to prevent theft. They include:
Do not leave a vehicle running and unattended.
Install an audible alarm, a steering column collar or a steering wheel lock.
Consider installing an immobilization device like a kill switch.
Consider installing a GPS tracking device to help law enforcement locate the vehicle if it is stolen. Report thefts immediately to police and provide information about the license plate number, a vehicle identification number, and the make, model and color. Also report the theft to your insurance company.