Valley law enforcement responding to rash of vehicle thefts

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Rio Grande Valley law enforcement agencies have seen a significant rise in the number of car thefts, which some officials say is the result of organized criminal activity that’s driving demand for specific vehicles stolen in the region before being smuggled across the border.

Agencies from McAllen, Brownsville, San Benito and Weslaco have addressed the increase in activity, observing that many arrests are of individuals with last known addresses in Mexico.

Federal prosecutors have also been charging people who have been crossing the same type of vehicles into Mexico.

Much of the activity is occurring in the Lower Valley, specifically in San Benito and especially in Brownsville, where authorities there have said suspects seek to take advantage of the proximity to the border as a means to more easily smuggle the vehicles into Mexico.

According to Public Information Officer Abril Luna from the Brownsville Police Department, the department noticed criminals were targeting specific vehicles.

“First we started seeing that they were targeting a lot of the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado pick-up trucks because they’re very convenient for the international criminal organizations down in Mexico,” Luna said. “These trucks are fast, they are very convenient to transport narcotics, weapons, so they’re just very … appealing to them.”

She adds that even though those vehicles are still being targeted, criminals have been seeking SUVs as well, such as the Cadillac XT4 or the Chevrolet Traverse.

Luna says that the people stealing vehicles are people hired by criminal organizations and just as they arrest one, another one pops out of the woodwork.

“They could just be anybody,” Luna said. “They just get hired to steal these vehicles, take them across to Mexico and they get paid for doing that.”

On Feb. 8, an 18-year-old woman from Donna was detained by United States Customs and Border Protection for an outstanding warrant regarding a stolen vehicle she crossed into Mexico, according to a criminal complaint.

Weslaco police release a still image of a man suspected in multiple vehicle thefts there and in other Valley cities. Police executed a search warrant at his residence on March 22, 2024. (Courtesy: Weslaco Police Department)

Nevaeh Angelee Gonzalez told authorities someone had offered her their 2020 Black GMC Sierra AT4 for her drive to Mexico on Feb. 6 at 10:05 a.m. She claimed that she was later driven to the Hidalgo Point of Entry to enter the U.S. on Feb. 8.

Gonzalez wasn’t alone when she crossed into Mexico. She had brought a male friend, which the complaint only refers to as “friend.”

“The friend stated he overheard Mexican authorities advised Gonzalez that they remembered her bringing a stolen vehicle into Mexico approximately a month ago,” the complaint said. “The friend stated that Gonzalez informed him that she was paid $500 to cross the Sierra into Mexico and knew that the Sierra was stolen.”

That Sierra was reported stolen out of Brownsville just a couple of hours before she entered Mexico.

According to a press release from the Donna Police Department, Gonzalez is believed to have been involved in a string of auto thefts across the RGV and wasn’t acting alone.

San Benito Police Department Public Information Officer Oscar Lara corroborated Luna’s statements regarding the types of vehicles criminals have been targeting in the Lower Valley, adding that the vehicles range from 2019 to 2024 models.

Lara adds that once a vehicle is stolen, it takes about two hours on average for them to be crossed into Mexico and the theft occurs at night or early morning hours.

“The majority of the time, when they are stolen, it happens after midnight,” Lara said.

Lara believes criminals are driving around in residential areas during the day and targeting houses where residents who own these specific types of vehicles live and return during the night to commit the crime.

He adds that the people who have been arrested do work together but aren’t part of a bigger organization and don’t speak about who hired them.

“Well, most of the time, when they are interviewed, they don’t give out too much information other than they were going to get paid,” Lara said. “They usually give us the amount … but it varies. They don’t talk much.”

About a week after Gonzalez’s arrest, San Benito police issued a press release regarding the arrest of four individuals who were attempting to steal a 2023 Chevrolet Silverado.

On Feb. 11, at about 4:30 a.m., San Benito police responded to a residential area in regards to an attempted auto theft where they were given the description of the four men and the vehicle they fled in.

Police conducted a traffic stop on a silver Cadillac passenger vehicle where the four men, Juan Daniel Puentes Gonzalez, Daniel De Jesus Flores Garcia, Eduardo Diaz and Fabian Fonseca Garcia, were found to be in possession of multiple burglary tools, crack cocaine and a firearm.

The same day San Benito police issued their press release, the McAllen Police Department also issued their own press release regarding another set of four individuals who are said to be involved in an auto theft ring.

Jose Tapia Chavez, 27, Anahi Naidaly Reyna, 22, Isaias Hernandez, 17, and Andrew Jimenez, 18, are all facing charges related to auto theft as well as additional charges to an ongoing investigation, according to the press release.

Reyna was the only one in the group to have a last known address in Mexico.

McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez stated that almost half the people arrested for auto theft are from Mexico and added that due to the geographical location of the RGV that “there’s an endless number of potential offenders no matter how many (they) arrest.”

“The players that are stealing in Brownsville are also found in McAllen and vice versa,” Rodriguez said.

He added that McAllen saw 64 cars stolen in 2022 and 92 in 2023 and that his department has made 24 arrests so far this year in regards to auto theft.

Lara stated that from January to March of this year, San Benito has seen 60 auto thefts with a majority of them occurring in January, but that they notice it happening more during the holidays.

Lara adds that they’ve already begun seeing a decrease in thefts.

Rodriguez said that, as someone who was part of one of Texas’ auto theft prevention organizations, he’s familiar with these sorts of criminals and is working with other local law enforcement in the Valley to prevent more theft from happening.

“We have many things in the pipeline and you might start seeing some of that soon,” Rodriguez said.

As far as auto theft prevention, every police department spoken to has stated they would increase police presence in residential areas, but Lara suggests residents invest in a steering wheel club to prevent people from stealing one’s vehicle or even adding a kill switch.

Lara adds that one should be alert and pay attention to their surroundings and if someone sees a suspicious vehicle, they should call 9-1-1 so their local police department can investigate.

“Sometimes these people are just watching these houses, when (people are) going in and out, just being opportunistic about it,” Lara said.

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