Imperial County Sheriff's Office investigators Manuel Cacatian (left) and Geraldo Acuña said an investigation that dismantled a local burglary and theft ring remains ongoing and could potentially result in additional arrests. | JULIO MORALES PHOTO
EL CENTRO — A burglary and theft ring that involved some 15 Imperial Valley residents who allegedly stole about $200,000 in property has been put out of business following a months-long investigation by the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office.
The group’s rash of burglaries and theft dated back to July 2020 and was brought to a stop in March following the arrest of an unidentified individual for allegedly being in possession of a stolen off-highway vehicle.
That arrested individual is alleged to have provided Sheriff’s Office investigators with further information that allowed the agency to eventually dismantle the criminal network, Sheriff Raymond Loera said during a press conference announcing the agency’s investigation on Thursday, July 15.
The unidentified suspects are alleged to have largely targeted agricultural companies throughout the Valley and stolen multiple vehicles, OHVs, tools and mail. In addition to the property theft, some of the suspects are alleged to have been in possession of child pornography, narcotics, and firearms, ICSO officials said.
“Investigators were able to identify several stash houses throughout the county which were utilized to hide stolen property, vehicles and tools,” Loera said.
One of the stash houses was searched a day after the arrest of the individual in possession of the stolen OHV. Investigators were able to recover multiple stolen OHVs from the reported stash house, said ICSO investigator Manuel Cacatian.
The names, ages, and cities of residences of those who are alleged to have taken part in the criminal activity were not disclosed by the Sheriff’s Office. All were male except for one woman. Officials stated all the arrests took place locally.
Yet, not all of the 15 suspects were arrested for their role in the alleged crimes, officials said. Those who weren’t were nonetheless questioned by ICSO investigators, who then compiled and submitted criminal cases against all of the 15 suspects with the county District Attorney’s Office for review and potential prosecution.
“Based on our investigation we were able to pretty much link all those individuals together in separate crimes,” Cacatian said during the press conference.
During the press conference, the Sheriff’s Office said it was not aware of the status of the criminal cases it submitted with the DA’s Office. Not all of the suspects are facing the same potential criminal charges.
In the absence of any of the suspects’ names, the DA’s Office was not able to provide a status update about the cases or whether charges have since been filed at the county Superior Court.
The Sheriff’s Office’s investigation remains ongoing. Officials declined to definitively state whether more arrests would be forthcoming locally or outside the county. The suspects are alleged to have worked with unidentified Mexicali residents to offload the stolen property in exchange for narcotics and money.
The suspects are believed to have conducted similar exchanges with parties on this side of the border, as well, investigator Cacatian said.
At least one resident of Mexicali also reportedly had helped an undetermined number of suspects cash stolen and fraudulent checks, ICSO investigator Geraldo Acuña said.
Of the 15 suspects, only one was alleged to have been in possession of child pornography, although two additional persons of interest had reportedly been electronically sent the material, ICSO officials said.
Some of the suspects reportedly had prior arrest records for similar offenses, including petty theft and burglaries, officials said.
Some of the businesses that were targeted include Brawley-based Dahm Enterprises, Ben Abatti Farms and Heritage Farms, both of El Centro, Church Brothers Farms in Holtville, Crown Equipment in Calexico and First Solar in Calipatria.
Aside from those businesses, suspects are accused of stealing a work truck in March from the Brawley wastewater treatment plant, according to an incident report number ICSO attributed to the theft ring.
Additionally, a bus used to transport workers was stolen from a location on East Zenos Road in Holtville on Feb. 23, and recovered later near Norrish Road and Holt Avenue, according to another incident report number ICSO attributed to the theft ring.
“We did come across a few residential victims, but for the most part they were commercial,” Cacatian said in reference to the burglaries and thefts.
Local law enforcement agencies that had assisted with the Sheriff’s Office investigation include the Brawley, El Centro and Calipatria police departments, the county Probation Department and Narcotics Task Force, the Border Crimes Suppression Team, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
All told, some 16 separate incidents were connected to the criminal enterprise. Property stolen during the incidents ranged from a $300 generator in El Centro in February, a $19,000 sand rail that was recovered in El Centro in March, to $36,000 worth of tools in Calexico in February, according to the incident report numbers ICSO attributed to the theft ring during its press conference.
Sheriff’s Office officials said that property owners can help protect themselves against burglaries and thefts by installing security systems that can also potentially help aid in the apprehension of the suspects.