Police hope a large takedown like the automobile theft investigation that ended this week with 21 people behind bars will deter other car thieves.
“If we create fear among these burglars that they’re selling to the cops, we’re hoping there will be less car thefts,” Lakewood police Lt. Chris Lawler said. “Car thefts affect everyday people and it’s frustrating.”
The six-month undercover operation called “Shiny Penny” spanned Pierce and Thurston counties with warrants served at five houses and multiple vehicles.
More arrests are anticipated.
Some of the top players charged in the case are Reuy Samnang, 28; Harrie Oh Chan, 21; and Juny An, whose age wasn’t listed in court records.
Police said most of those arrested belonged to two local gangs.
The defendants are accused of stealing multiple vehicles from around the region and selling them to undercover detectives operating out of a Tacoma storefront, sometimes for as little as $200.
An also sold detectives guns he said came from Portland. Sixteen weapons were recovered during the takedown, including two assault rifles.
The stolen vehicles were worth about $250,000, Lawler said.
The operation was ran by the Auto Crimes Enforcement Task Force, which includes officers from Lakewood, Tacoma, Puyallup and Fife police, along with the Pierce County sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices.
This is the third undercover operation by the task force in two years.
Victims are expected to be able to collect their stolen property next week.