Six men suspected of stealing at least 41 Porsches were arrested after a three-month investigation that uncovered a Southern California theft ring based in Santa Ana, authorities said Wednesday.
The men are suspected of stealing more than $1 million worth of Porsches and unloading the parts through a distribution network that might have reached other states, investigators said.
"We've been having some problems at South Coast Plaza, Fashion Island and some of the locations in Irvine over the past few years, and this should put a stop to quite a bit of it," California Highway Patrol Officer Lt. Rick Criner said. "We've recovered parts to 41 vehicles that we believe this group is responsible for."
Authorities said the ring is controlled by two brothers, Troy Ramon Butts, 24, of Santa Ana and James Clifton Butts, 32, of Perris, both of whom have extensive criminal records that include auto thefts and burglary, authorities said. The brothers, along with another man, usually target parking lots and security-controlled garages, Criner said.
Once they found a Porsche, "they would punch the lock out and hot-wire the vehicle," Criner said. "It takes a minute, maybe even less than a minute."
Investigators do not know how the thieves drove out of garages monitored by guards. "We're not sure at this point," Criner said. "They do know how to [get past] the security guards."
The cars were taken to "chop shops," where they were dismantled and their parts sold or used to rebuild other Porsches, Criner said. Two of the six men arrested allegedly owned such shops and another worked from his home garage.
The "shells" were then dumped mostly in Riche canyon in Riverside County or Mulholland Canyon in Los Angeles County, Criner said.
"This is a significant, sophisticated ring," Criner said.
The Porsches were stolen between October 1993 and Monday, investigators said. Only two remain intact, Criner said. Authorities said they believe a dozen more stolen Porsches might be linked to the group, with more arrests probable.
In July, a Porsche with a tracking device was stolen from Fashion Island. Police followed it to the parking lot of a Los Angeles gambling casino.
No one was in the car when they found it, but the case gave the Orange County Auto Theft Task Force enough clues to begin an investigation. The task force consists of detectives from the CHP, district attorney's office, state Department of Corrections, Department of Motor Vehicles and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Troy Butts, who allegedly stored stolen parts in his garage, and his brother surrendered Tuesday. Others arrested later that day were: Michael Lee Evans, 29, of Norwalk; Robert Anziano, 53, of Santa Ana; Johnny Richard King, 46, of Chino; and Anthony Sturgis, 30, of Los Angeles.
The men have been charged with 64 counts each of conspiracy, vehicle theft, possession of stolen property, operation of a chop shop and taking property exceeding $1 million in value. They are being held at Orange County Jail in lieu of bail between $100,000 to $250,000 each.