Major bust starts with stolen car

CATHCART — It wasn’t just a stolen car.

It never is.

Investigators with the Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force made a big bust and two arrests earlier this week in the Cathcart area. They recovered two stolen cars, 14 firearms, including military-style rifles and a sawed-off shotgun, thousands of rounds of ammunition and precious jewels. There was even a sprinkling of methamphetamine to top it all off.

The case started about 3 p.m. Monday at a home along 156th Street SE.

A black 2001 Chevrolet Tahoe had been reported stolen from a Kirkland-area motel, said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Jason Longoria, who’s assigned to the task force.

That Tahoe happened to be financed by an Everett auto dealer, Longoria said. That dealer puts GPS trackers on its vehicles as part of the contract it signs with buyers.

“They pinged the GPS track and, lo and behold, it showed up at an address off Highway 9, south Snohomish area,” he said.

Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies found the Tahoe parked in front of the suspect’s grandmother’s home, according to police affidavits.

The suspect, 30, was in the Tahoe’s driver’s seat, and his girlfriend, 23, was climbing into the passenger side, court papers show. They reportedly were planning to drive to Idaho.

The man told deputies he was loading up loot from a storage shed.

“The Tahoe is loaded to the gills,” Longoria recalled.

Deputies at the scene also noticed a maintenance van for Gene Juarez Salons &Spas parked nearby. The van had been reported stolen out of Bellevue that morning.

That’s when the deputies called in the auto theft task force, a specialized multi-agency cadre of investigators who target car thieves operating in Snohomish County.

The man and woman were arrested, and the task force obtained a judge’s permission to search the vehicles and storage shed.

They found 14 guns, court papers show. So far, 11 of those weapons have been confirmed stolen from throughout the Western Washington area. They also found roughly 3,000 rounds of ammunition. Most of the guns were in the Tahoe.

“It was a rolling arsenal … or a rolling gun shop,” Longoria said.

They also found an estimated $50,000 worth of power tools, a bunch of gun accessories such as holsters, and a few plastic bags filled with precious stones, including diamonds, rubies and sapphires.

The stones likely were plucked from stolen jewelry before the gold was sold off for cash, Longoria said. Investigators also recovered a small amount of meth.

Both suspects remained booked Thursday at Snohomish County Jail.

The bust was just one example of how a stolen car investigation can grow into something bigger, said sheriff’s Lt. Brent Speyer, who leads the task force.

“This is the kind of stuff they find,” he said. “Every time you get into a big stolen car case, you solve a ton of property crimes.”

The task force mostly is funded by grants and proceeds from traffic tickets, Speyer said. The task force last year recovered nearly $1 million in stolen vehicles and other property.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

The task force

The Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force was formed about five years ago in part because of legislation sponsored by Sheriff John Lovick, who then was a state lawmaker. It includes one lieutenant, one sergeant, three detectives, a prosecutor and a legal secretary.

In 2012, the group:

•Recovered 109 stolen vehicles

•Arrested 36 suspected car thieves

•Filed 44 car-theft charges

If you believe you may be the owner of stolen items recovered in this case, you should contact whatever police agency took your original theft report.

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