A sophisticated car theft operation that targeted Mercedes-Benzes, Cadillacs and other high-priced makes has been broken up with the rearrest of a man who had previously pleaded guilty to a single count of auto theft, the Sheriff's Department announced Friday.
Walter Moore, a 39-year-old Los Angeles resident already facing a six-month jail sentence, is now believed responsible for up to 39 auto thefts in the last two years, Lt. Gary Stephens said.
In announcing the arrest, law enforcement officials displayed 17 cars recovered so far at a Culver City tow yard. The cars, including BMWs, a Jaguar and a Maserati, have an estimated value of $350,000, Stephens said. Investigators are trying to locate another 22 stolen cars.
Moore acquired fraudulent titles to the autos through a scheme in which he obtained pink slips, registrations and vehicle identification numbers from late-model, high-priced cars found in salvage yards and then transferred the documentation to stolen cars through the use of forged Department of Motor Vehicle documents and counterfeit vehicle identification plates that he manufactured himself, Stephens said.
It is believed that Moore sometimes committed the car thefts himself and sometimes hired accomplices, the investigator said.
Moore sometimes offered what appeared to be terrific bargains at auto swap meets to unsuspecting buyers. For example, Stephens said, he sold a 1986 Mercedes 500 SEC, valued at $52,000, for $16,000. Defrauded buyers will likely have to seek compensation in civil court, Stephens said.
Moore was being held on $250,000 bail. Also arrested were Norman Baroody, 62, of Granada Hills on one count of receiving stolen property, and Marsha Holt, 42, of Los Angeles on one count of grand theft auto. Bail was set at $5,000 for Baroody and $1,500 for Holt. Investigators expect to make additional arrests, Stephens said.
Moore was arrested by sheriff's deputies last year in West Hollywood on one count of auto theft. He pleaded guilty and recently was sentenced to six months in jail, but had not begun serving his sentence, Stephens said.
An informant's tip prompted further surveillance of Moore by members of the West Criminal Apprehension Team, an inter-agency group comprised of the Sheriff's Department and police from Inglewood, Culver City and UCLA. Moore drove several autos in that period, and a check of DMV records indicated that all had been recently salvaged. A further check revealed that Moore obtained title to 39 such salvaged cars over a two-year period, Stephens said.
Officers arrested Moore on the new charges Tuesday, but withheld an announcement until the cars were recovered.