PHOENIX -- Arizona and California authorities seized more than $600,000 in stolen vehicles and marijuana and arrested five people Thursday, the culmination of a four-month investigation into a vehicle-theft ring.
The Arizona Automobile Theft Authority, Arizona Department of Public Safety's Vehicle Theft Task Force, Mesa Police Department and California Highway Patrol served 10 search warrants Thursday morning in Mesa and the California cities of Bakersfield and Shaffer.
According to DPS, the criminal organization would obtain a vehicle identification number from a salvaged vehicle, steal a similar vehicle, switch the numbers, and retitle the altered vehicle in California using a stolen Arizona title.
The Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division reported the titles stolen in March 2012.
DPS said the investigation, dubbed "Operation Bloodhound," began after a suspicious vehicle was posted for sale on Craigslist several months ago.
Authorities recovered 13 stolen vehicles Thursday and arrested a man they believe to be the ringleader, 33-year-old Richard Ochoa.
At the time of his arrest, Ochoa was allegedly in possession of more than 50 pounds of marijuana, scales, wrappings from marijuana bundles, and a weapon. The marijuana has an estimated street value of $45,000.
Ochoa was booked into a Maricopa County jail on several charges related to drug possession and running the vehicle-theft ring.
All suspects are facing charges of trafficking stolen property, vehicle theft, operating a criminal syndicate, and tampering with vehicle identification numbers, according to DPS.