Teens arrested in gang-related auto theft spree | SteamboatToday.com

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Teens arrested in gang-related auto theft spree

Youths accused of stealing seven vehicles

— Local law enforcement agencies have arrested two suspected teenage gang members for an auto theft crime spree last week in Pitkin, Garfield and Routt counties and in Denver.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario issued a press release late Friday reporting that the two youths, and a third who is under investigation, are "validated" members of the criminal Sureño gang who have been living in Garfield County.

One youth, Jason Alexis Gamez-Banda, 14, was apprehended Oct. 30 while reportedly trying to steal a vehicle in New Castle, with a stolen handgun in his possession.

Gamez-Banda was "held at gunpoint by the vehicle’s owner until officers from the New Castle Police Department and deputies from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office arrived and took him into custody," Vallario reported in the release.

The youths are accused of stealing seven vehicles between Oct. 25 and 30: five in Garfield and Pitkin counties, one in the Steamboat Springs area and one in Denver. They are also believed to have burglarized eight other vehicles, stealing electronics and the handgun recovered in New Castle.

The 14-year-old is charged with three felonies: aggravated motor vehicle theft, theft and first-degree criminal trespass, and two misdemeanors: carrying a concealed weapon and underage possession of a handgun. His is also under a hold placed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service.

The second youth, Luis Jurado, 16, is charged with one felony, aggravated motor vehicle theft. The sheriff’s report did not explain how or when Jurado was apprehended.

A third teen is still under investigation and is not currently facing felony charges. He was not identified.

Close work among local law enforcement agencies linked the suspects to the crimes and to the Sureño gang, and led to the recovery of all seven stolen vehicles, Vallario said.

During the initial stages of the investigation of Gamez-Banda by the Carbondale and New Castle police departments, a Carbondale officer recognized gang-related information. The officer contacted the sheriff’s anti-gang deputy, who used his resources, database and informants to help identify the other suspects.

The investigation also involved the Aspen Police Department and ICE Homeland Security Investigations.

"The outcome of this investigation demonstrates the importance of the cooperation between local and federal law enforcement agencies such as ICE Homeland Security Investigations and its Operation Community Shield Task Force," Vallario said.

"It also demonstrates that dangerous criminal gang activity is present in our communities," he said. "A cooperative law enforcement approach with our citizens is crucial to eradicate this criminal element."

Authorities noted that these vehicle thefts and others involved cars left unlocked, sometimes with the keys inside.

"To prevent these types of crimes, please remember to remove valuables and secure your vehicle," Vallario said. "Whenever possible, park your vehicle in a location that is well lit and has high visibility."