VenCATT/SPPD: Auto theft taskforce arrests 12 on various charges

March 20, 2013
Santa Paula News

A dozen people were arrested early Friday morning when more than 100 law enforcement personnel conducted search warrant raids on 11 locations in and around Santa Paula, part of a probe of an auto theft ring.

One suspect was arrested at Ventura County Jail where he is now incarcerated on suspicion of auto theft, among other charges.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the investigation was started in December 2012 by the Ventura County Auto Theft Taskforce (VenCATT) and the Santa Paula Police Department. The joint task force includes every law enforcement agency in Ventura County as well as the CHP, Department of Motor Vehicles Investigations Unit and the District Attorney’s Office.

A CHP statement noted, “During the course of the investigation multiple suspects were identified committing auto theft related activities.  Through extensive investigative and cooperative efforts,” warrants were obtained through the DA’s Office.  

“With the assistance and cooperation of over 100 law enforcement personnel from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, Ventura Police Department, Oxnard Police Department, and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, VenCATT and the Santa Paula Police Department simultaneously served a total of 11 search warrants.” 

A command post overseeing the operation was set up at the Santa Paula Police Department “for the duration of the take-down” that resulted in 12 arrests for a variety of charges to include auto theft, conspiracy, drug possession and sales, weapon violations, and possession of gang indicia.  Marijuana, methamphetamine, an additional stolen vehicle, and 13 firearms were seized during the execution of the search warrants.  

Six of the subjects arrested were identified as documented gang members.

Santa Paula Interim Police Chief Ishmael Cordero said the SPPD had “probably about 30 officers, including reserves,” take part in the early morning warrant searches that were conducted in “various locations throughout Santa Paula,” including an unincorporated area of the city in the vicinity of the 17000 block of East Telegraph Road. “Everything went smoothly,” he added, and all the suspects were arrested without incident.  

Justin Steele, a former Santa Paula resident, was arrested in jail, but his Oxnard home was searched. Steele was arrested in November and again in January on charges that included suspicion of car theft. The identities of the others arrested have not yet been released.

Cordero said the taskforce approached the SPPD because “a lot of the players” suspected of being involved in a car theft ring were from Santa Paula... that’s how our Crime Suppression Unit got involved. We assisted in the investigation, identified who they were and what they were all about.” SPPD Det. Allen Macias worked with the taskforce in writing the search warrants. 

Cordero added the six arrested who are documented gang members all belong to the same area street gang. “We’re still doing what we do best and trying to send a message out there that we’re here and doing the best we can with what we’ve got,” and Cordero thanked the taskforce for their effort. “Arresting 12 people is quite a lot, it went quite well,” and Cordero said the SPPD will continue to work closely with such crime-fighting partners.

Operated by the California Highway Patrol, the mission of the Ventura County Auto Theft Task Force is to reduce instances of auto theft activity through aggressive and collaborative efforts with law enforcement agencies in Ventura County.

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