22 arrested in drug, car theft ring

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Twenty-two people in an international drug trafficking and car theft ring were arrested Thursday all around the state by federal and local agents.

They face charges for stealing luxury vehicles in exchange for meth and heroin, according to Homeland Security Investigations. Defendants could also face charges for racketeering and money laundering.

The investigation took place over 10 months and was conducted with HSI, APD, the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Auto Theft Authority and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The investigation was called “Operation VIN-a-Palooza,” HSI officials say. More than 300 law enforcement authorities served 12 state search warrants Thursday morning which resulted in the arrests.

Authorities recovered more than $2 million worth of luxury vehicles.

The investigation began when the Arizona Department of Public Safety learned of a scheme involving luxury vehicles being stolen off car lots in Albuquerque. The car theft ring was allegedly working for the Sinaloa drug cartel, and may have stolen hundreds of vehicles in Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The vehicles were then allegedly shipped to Mexico in exchange for the drugs.

The investigation is ongoing.

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