LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were asking for the public’s help Friday in locating a man suspected of selling stolen vehicles in South Los Angeles.
The Sheriff’s Taskforce for Regional Autotheft Prevention (TRAP) has been targeting professional auto theft rings involved in Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) switching automobiles and reselling them to unsuspecting victims.
Detectives were aware that unknown suspects were selling the stolen vehicles on the street at a reduced price to entice buyers, but were unable to identify those suspects.
On April 8, 2013, detectives tracked a stolen vehicle to the 6700 block Miramonte Blvd. in an unincorporated neighborhood of South L.A.
During the investigation, auto theft detectives discovered eight active stolen vehicles of various makes and models. A search warrant of the suspects’ residence revealed the location was being used for a VIN switching operation. The suspects would steal vehicles, change the identity of the vehicle (VIN switch the vehicles) and then sell them to innocent purchasers.
The vehicles recovered were all stolen within the last thirty days, except for one which was stolen approximately one year ago. The majority of these vehicles were stolen from the City of Los Angeles out of the Wilshire, Pacific and Valley areas.
The suspects specialized in Toyota, Scion and Lexus products with Corollas and Camry’s being their vehicles of choice. It is believed that this operation has been functioning for some time and that these individuals are responsible for stealing in excess of a hundred vehicles.
Arrested at the residence were brothers, 19-year old Juan Mercado and 22-year old Danny Garcia. Suspect Mercado was arrested for Owning/Operating a Chop Shop, while Suspect Garcia was arrested for Buying a Vehicle for Resell with Knowledge of Fraudulent Identification. Both were initially held on $50,000 bail.
Detectives are seeking an additional suspect, 40-year-old Juan Carlos Mercado Sr., who is the father of the above named suspects. Detectives have obtained a $95,000 felony warrant for Owning/Operating a Chop Shop for his immediate arrest.
Anyone with information regarding Mercado or anyone who may have purchased a vehicle from any of the suspects is urged to contact the TRAP detectives at (626) 572-5623 or if you wish to remain Anonymous, call “LA Crime Stoppers” by dialing 800-222-TIPS (8477), texting the letters TIPLA plus your tip to CRIMES (274637), or using the website LACrimeStoppers.org.