Feds and NM police arrest 22 in trafficking ring

Created: 06/26/2014 5:29 PM
By: Erica Zucco, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Federal agents have taken more than 20 thieves off the streets in New Mexico in what they called "Operation VIN-a-Palooza," a 10-month investigation. Investigators say suspects stole high-end cars and trucks, changed the vehicle identification numbers and traded them for money and drugs in Mexico.

Thursday, 300 federal and local officers fanned out across the Albuquerque metro. They busted 22 people they say were stealing luxury cars and then changing their VIN numbers at chop shops. Authorities say then, in connection with the Sinaloa drug cartel, they sent them to Mexico and got cash and drugs in return.

"We don't know if those drugs, if those were being personally used narcotics or if it was being sold on the street, so there's a threat right there. And the money, what's the money being used for?" Homeland Security Investigations Agent in Charge Dennis Ulrich said.

Two workers at a New Mexico title service business were even in on it; they were arrested.

"Issuing out clean titles, helping them change the VIN numbers, which was resulting in a method for them to be able to transport the cars with now having a license plate and a new title," New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department Cabinet Secretary Demesia Padilla said.

Officers and deputies from Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Bernalillo County, Los Lunas, Valencia County and New Mexico State Police worked with federal authorities for 10 months to investigate.

"This was a very quick operation, honestly, because of the cooperation we had and the people we work with," HSI assistant agent-in-charge Kevin Abar said.

Authorities say the investigation is far from over and more arrests are on the way.

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