MESA, Ariz. (AP) -- Sixteen people have been arrested and about 300 guns recovered along with thousands of stolen items in a police operation that targeted a Mesa pawn shop.
Mesa police say the Eazy Pick N Pawn near Alma School Road and Main allegedly trafficked nearly exclusively in stolen property.
Detectives began investigating the store in October 2013 after its owner was stopped for a traffic violation and a stolen handgun was found in his vehicle.
Police say stolen property allegedly was being run through the pawn shop on a daily basis.
"A very expensive road race bike was recovered that was stolen out of Tempe," says Mesa Police Dep. Chief Deanna Cantrell. "There was an iPad stolen from ASU P.D. A Mac Book stolen from the Paradise Valley School District."
Police also say three stolen vehicles and one stolen motorcycle have also been recovered, not to mention nearly 300 stolen guns. Police say the guns were part of a massive criminal syndicate with gang connections, uncovered by Mesa police over the past few months.
"Funny thing, these weapons usually do not end up on skeet ranges; they do not end up on deer hunts," says Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. "These weapons end up in places they're not supposed to be and they do harm to other people."
The investigation started with a traffic stop middle of last year, when police pulled over shop owner Aaron Ellertson. During the stop, police found a stolen gun, and a cell phone with messages about stolen cars.That sparked an undercover investigation that found hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen property, all being laundered by the pawn shop, according to Mesa PD.
"They used Ebay, they used Craigslist, they used Amazon, so that's another thing for the consumer out there," cautions Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead. "When you're buying something that appears to be a really good deal off of one of these secondary sites it could be you're contributing to a crime or becoming a victim of crime yourself."
In addition to Ellertson, police have so far arrested and identified Robert Hernandez and Randy Corell, both pawn shop employees. Also arrested is Stevie Blozvich, one of nearly a dozen gang members who police say were doing much of the actual stealing.
Police add that hundreds of thousands of dollars in property now is being gone through to determine the proper owner.