Lengthy arraignment for 32 defendants in auto theft sting

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — One day after authorities announced 42 indictments in an undercover auto theft ring, 32 of the defendants followed one another into a superior courtroom to be arraigned.

Even a veteran judge such as David Danielson acknowledged, "this is a somewhat extraordinary event." The reading of charges and pleas for 32 defendants.

The public defender also took the unusual step of briefing family members and the media that all of the defendants would plead not guilty and, to avoid conflicts, it appeared most if not all of the defendants would not be able to afford their own attorneys.

The alternative public defenders officer would be part of the individual defenses as well.

Related Link: 42 indicted in connection to undercover operation of stolen cars, drugs, weapons

Authorities announced the arrests on Thursday after a police undercover sting targeted stolen vehicles, involving 10 different car theft rings operating in the east and south county.

While there was no central figure coordinating things, authorities said a lot of the thieves knew each other.

"San Diego County ranks fifteenth in the nation for auto theft, a huge improvement from 2007 when we were third nationwide,” said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. "Since RATT has been attacking this problem, auto theft is now down about 75 percent to about 10,000 a year.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan said the defendants were stealing cars and selling them to a storefront in Lemon Grove, where they were to be broken up and sold for parts.

Over the course of the sting, which involved a fake chop shop in Lemon Grove setup by the Regional Auto Theft Task Force, drug and gun sales were also found to be part of the illegal activity.

Fifty-one firearms, 5 1/2 pounds of methamphetamine, three kilograms of cocaine and 15 pounds of marijuana also were seized.

As for the 10 outstanding suspects announced Thursday, during the arraignment, there was no update on whether any had been apprehended in the time since. 

Categories: Local San Diego News