Eleven people stole at least 130 cars from streets and parking lots across metro Denver and then used the credit cards and identification documents found inside to commit more crimes, according to a grand jury indictment announced Thursday.
Their targeted locations included a Lowes parking lot, an RTD parking lot, hotel parking lots and neighborhood streets. They also broke into dealerships and repair shops, where they entered offices and stole keys to multiple cars, as well as key programmers and anything else of value.
If they found credit cards, checkbooks or identification documents, they then tried to use those items to make purchases or commit identity fraud, according to the indictment.
Investigators with the Colorado Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force estimated that the total value of the stolen cars and property exceeded $3.1 million. The thefts spanned the northern Front Range, from Weld County to Douglas County, from Boulder to Aurora.
The members of the auto-theft ring, who range in age from 19 to 34, face a combined 74 counts for the thefts and other associated crimes between February 2021 and May 2022. Beyond vehicle theft, the counts include possession of weapons by previous offenders, cybercrime, identity theft, assault and drug charges. Investigators allege the members of the conspiracy stole cars in part to pay for drugs.
The indictment comes as the Denver area continues to suffer a sharp spike in auto thefts. The number of thefts more than doubled from just under 13,000 in 2019 to more than 27,000 last year — or more than 70 a day.
The members of the alleged auto-theft ring abandoned some of the cars, kept some for their own use and tried to sell others through Facebook. Investigators recovered fingerprints from members of the group on the inside of some of the stolen vehicles. Several members of the group had guns and drugs on them when they were arrested, the indictment states.
When confronted by law enforcement, members of the ring sometimes sped away recklessly in an attempt to escape. One member crashed into a home in Northglenn after he fled police.
“If confronted by law enforcement officers or theft victims, enterprise members engaged in reckless maneuvers, including, but not limited to, ramming vehicles, driving over obstacles, fleeing at high speed and entering on-coming lanes of traffic,” the indictment states.
One of the group members, Susana Garcia, on March 28 ran over a man who tried to keep her from stealing a car, the indictment states. The car’s owner, whose name is redacted, jumped on the hood of the car as she drove from a parking lot onto South Monaco Street. Garcia sped up, weaved and made a U-turn to try to knock the owner off.
When she succeeded, she ran him over and drove away, according to the indictment. The car was recovered three days later.
At least three of the group’s members had previous convictions connected to vehicle theft.
“Members continued to commit crimes to support themselves and each other, even when one or more members were caught and briefly jailed,” the indictment states. “After being bonded from jail, the bonded members immediately began committing more crimes to support themselves and other members.”
The Denver District Attorney’s Office will prosecute the cases, according to a news release from the office.