Fresno Police bust auto theft organization

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno Police say during the Big Fresno fair, the number of cars stolen usually increases. That's why they've stepped up their undercover operations all over the city to catch thieves before they strike fair goers. So far, they've managed to not only arrest people in the act ... but also return some of the stolen cars to its original owners

Paul Banda of Fresno never thought he'd see his white pickup truck again. Last week, it was stolen while he was working in a Central Fresno neighborhood. The truck is hard to miss ... with the name of Banda's waste pickup company sprawled across it.

Banda said, "It's my living, it's my way of life and for them to take a work truck, it's the goofiest thing. You know, what's the point?"

On Monday, police recovered Banda's truck during an undercover operation. The surveillance video shows officers purchase the vehicle for just 100 dollars.

Sgt. Tim Tietjen said, "We posed as buyers of stolen vehicles, illegal buyers, you know we wanted to buy these cars and part them out."

Hours after this deal went down; officers arrested these two men ... Leonard Romero and Pedro Diaz. Police say they're both professionals and make a living stealing and selling cars.

Those arrests led investigators to an apartment complex in Fresno, where they arrested six more people. They also found methamphetamine and tools used to steal cars.

Sgt. Tietjen adds, "Now, this will be the third crew we've taken down in the last month."

Over the past five days, officers have purchased four cars from this group of thieves ... including Richard Collier's Honda Civic. In his case, the people who stole it installed a stereo inside.

"I've actually gained a stereo, so that's kinda ironic. I'm just happy to get my car back. I'm not a rich man, so I'm just very very pleased," said Collier.

The Help Eliminate Auto Theft Team ... or HEAT is heading up this operation. Investigators say since it started last month, car theft in Southeast Fresno has gone down by 35-percent.

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