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Raid on 'Chop Shop' Spurs Probe : Thefts: One suspect arrested in what police say may be a sophisticated stolen car ring.

March 25, 1993|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HIGHLAND PARK — A raid two weeks ago on a Highland Park "chop shop," a garage where stolen cars are dismantled, has led to a continuing investigation into what police say may be a sophisticated car theft ring.

One person has been charged with receiving stolen property, said Harold Bowman, a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast station.

Detectives are examining evidence seized to determine if patrol officers stumbled upon a major car theft ring. Many such rings operate by making wholesale alterations to stolen cars, Bowman said.

For example, dashboards and front ends in stolen cars that are stamped with vehicle identification numbers are often swapped for dashboards and front ends retrieved from legally salvaged cars with different identification numbers.

"They get real sophisticated," Bowman said. "Some people cut cars in half, and it's really hard to tell the difference."

The investigation began after Joe Axt, a Glendale resident, reported his 1990 Acura Legend stolen March 8. Glendale police activated a LoJack transponder device in Axt's car, and the vehicle was located on a Highland Park street the same day about 4 p.m. by Los Angles police officers, said Michelle Nino, a LoJack spokeswoman.

Officers then staked out the car until three men came to retrieve it about 10:30 p.m., Bowman said. The device, which beeps to alert officers to a car's whereabouts, led the officers to a garage in the 5700 block of Arroyo Drive.

Three men standing in front of the garage abruptly began walking away in different directions when they saw the patrol car, Bowman said. Officers stopped the men and peered through the garage door, spotting the stolen Acura inside.

Also inside the garage were more than 300 car parts, including 19 steering wheels with anti-theft bars attached, 30 car jacks and assorted tires, rims and fenders.

Hector Ortiz Martinez, 25, of Highland Park has been charged with receiving stolen property, Bowman said.

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