California Highway Patrol officers on Tuesday, Aug. 11, took one man into custody tied to a retail theft ring while still searching for two other suspects believed to have been involved in more than 90 smash-and-grab robberies this year in Southern California and elsewhere, authorities said.
The three suspects netted about $710,000 in stolen property from stores in Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties as well as in Arizona and Nevada, CHP Sgt. Jim Kelley said.
Donning helmets and tactical gear, CHP officers raided a home in the 15900 block of Orchard Avenue in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles, where they found some stolen property inside, Kelley said.
None of the three suspects sought was at the home, which sits in a neighborhood of single-family houses just west of the 110 Freeway.
But less than five miles away, officers found one of the suspects, Edwin Rojas, 34, of Los Angeles, at a Motel 6 in Carson. He was arrested on suspicion of organized retail theft, burglary and grand theft, Kelley said.
Officers had hoped to find a second suspect, a 38-year-old woman, but she was not at the motel, Kelley said. A third suspect had yet to be identified, the sergeant said. The three most recently had been seen together by authorities Saturday at a hotel in Long Beach.
Surveillance of the suspects led authorities to both locations. At least one suspect had a connection to the home, but it was unclear if any of the suspects were related to the occupants inside.
The CHP’s Organized Retail Crime unit, formed in November, had been investigating the thefts after receiving calls from retail stores reporting stolen property starting in January, Kelley said.
In most cases, the suspects would break a window or door using a rock or hand tools or, in some cases, by tying tow straps from the door to the back of their vehicle, Kelley said. Then they would go in and grab what they could, usually staying inside less than three minutes, before escaping.
Kelley said a few items were seen being sold on the street on Thursday, Aug. 6, but so far it is unclear what happened with much of the merchandise. Authorities searched a storage unit in Los Angeles on Tuesday, on suspicion the suspects had stored some of the stolen property there, but the search came up empty.
“We had hoped that with businesses reopening earlier this year, they would slow down, but they didn’t,” he said, adding that the suspects most recently hit two businesses on Saturday.
The stores that were vicitmized included Nike, Ulta Beauty, Nordstrom Rack, T.J. Maxx, Victoria Secret and Columbia, Kelley said.
In many of the burglaries, the suspects would use rental cars and take off the license plates, but authorities got their break when a witness caught a license plate after a store burglary in Las Vegas, Kelley said. The plate sequence came back to a rental car, which led them to the identity of at least one of the suspects, he said.
Up to that point, authorities knew they were searching for three suspects, but had had difficulty identifying them through video because they wore face coverings, Kelley said.
The bust was the biggest so far for the newly formed unit. Since its inception, the Organized Retail Crime unit has arrested more than 60 suspects, Kelley said.
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