HOUSTON – Police say charges have been filed against two suspects believed to be responsible for the theft and illegal export of more than 100 vehicles.
According to the Houston Police Department, one suspect, Michael Armando Arce, 24, is charged with felony in possession of a weapon, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Police said the second suspect, Jesse Irvin Zelaya, 22, is charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Investigators said that the two suspects specifically targeted Jeep and Dodge vehicles in the Houston area.
On May 25, the HPD’s Auto Theft Division initiated an investigation into the theft of a Jeep Wrangler near downtown Houston.
The owner of the Jeep caught the thieves on his home surveillance system. In the video, two men are seen breaking into the vehicle. One man then pulls out a laptop, then drives away several minutes later.
Police said the surveillance video was crucial to their investigation during a news conference Thursday morning.
“We never had any video of the actual thefts occurring with the use of electronic equipment,” said Jim Woods with the Houston Police Department.
At that time, auto theft investigators exhausted all workable leads.
On July 25, investigators obtained information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Immigration Enforcement regarding vehicles being stolen utilizing a laptop computer.
Investigators identified Arce and Zelaya as suspects in the thefts. Zelaya and Arce are believed to have stolen Jeep Wranglers, Cherokees and Dodge pickup trucks and then transported them across the U.S. Mexico border, usually in the overnight hours before vehicle owners were aware they had been stolen.
On July 30, officers from the HPD Central Patrol Division Tactical Unit, North Patrol Division Tactical Unit, Gang Division and the Auto Theft Division conducted an operation in the Rice Military area.
“Friday night, the suspects went out and did the routine we hoped they would. They went out to a target rich environment where they had stolen vehicles before,” said Woods.
Police said they witnessed Arce and Zelaya attempting to steal a Jeep vehicle from a home in the neighborhood.
Police said officers later searched the suspects’ homes and recovered electronic devices, keys and other tools believed to have been utilized in the thefts. Narcotics, firearms and body armor were also recovered, police said.
“There’s a possibility they may not be the only ones that are doing this. But right now, we feel that if they are the only ones doing this. With this arrest, we should be able to curb the amount of thefts that have been occurring,” said Woods.
Woods said authorities are investigating a rash of similar thefts in California and Florida as well.