Law enforcement authorities have uncovered an auto theft ring involving seven people in Nebraska and Iowa who they say targeted several area car dealerships.
Officials said the group used the stolen vehicles to traffic drugs, swap out parts with other cars or sell the stolen vehicles using other vehicles’ vehicle identification numbers.
Three of the seven people have been charged with grand theft auto; authorities have issued an arrest warrant for a fourth person. Federal officials in Iowa are considering filing drug charges against the three other people, said Lt. Kyle Steffen, who leads the Omaha police auto theft unit.
Steffen said making arrests for stolen vehicles can prevent other crimes from occurring.
“Auto theft is a significant problem, and what we do see is that auto theft precipitates numerous other crimes,” Steffen said. “Criminals will use stolen vehicles for other crimes.”
In May, Omaha Police Detective Antone Arrick found that vehicles had been stolen from several dealerships in Omaha, especially during holidays when they were closed, such as on Christmas Day and Memorial Day. He dug into stolen vehicle databases to look at trends and for possible suspects.
Baxter Auto Group’s locations across the metro area were targeted, including two locations in Omaha and at least two in Sarpy County.
According to court documents, on May 25, Memorial Day, security footage from Baxter’s La Vista location at 7010 S. 124th Circle showed two men arrive in a white SUV, enter the service center garage about 5:30 p.m. and take a black Dodge Durango. Mechanics later told La Vista police that $26,000 worth of mechanics’ tools also had been stolen.
Less than two hours later, security video footage showed, a white Chevrolet Tahoe and the Durango arrived at the Baxter dealership in Bellevue at 7713 S. 19th St.
The man driving the Durango wore a black face mask but had on black shorts that showed many distinct leg tattoos. La Vista Police Detective Amanda Eby found that the tattoos matched those on Kevin Bequette, 35, who had also been identified as a suspect by Arrick.
Both the Durango and the Tahoe, which was reported stolen from another dealership, were recovered by authorities near the Rock Creek Apartments near 148th Street and Giles Road. From April 22 to May 29, authorities recovered 12 stolen vehicles in that area, seven of which were from dealerships.
Steffen said that while detectives have connected at least 10 stolen vehicles to the group, it’s “very likely” that more had been stolen before last Christmas.
Bequette has been charged in Sarpy County with burglary and several counts of theft. Steffen said he’ll be arrested in connection with stolen vehicles in Douglas County once that case is settled.
The group not only broke into dealerships but also stole vehicles when dealers left the keys inside.
One of Bequette’s associates, Justin D. Taylor, 32, is accused of taking a Jeep Cherokee just after midnight May 5 at the Baxter dealership at 17950 Burt St.
The service director there told officers that the Cherokee was parked on the building’s south side near the service center garage doors while the dealership was open.
“It was common for an employee to pull a completed vehicle out of the service bay and park it unlocked with the keys inside in anticipation of the owner retrieving it immediately,” according to a court document. “(The service director) stated that the (Jeep’s owners) were not ready to pick the vehicle up and it was left unlocked with the keys inside up until the suspects arrived.”
Steffen said when Arrick recognized these patterns of theft at dealerships, police worked with the businesses to help them take “precautionary steps to decrease the ease of the vehicles being stolen.”