(CAMP PENDLETON, Claif.) — Fourteen active and former U.S. Marines were among 64 alleged perpetrators of an illicit military weapons and drug trafficking ring busted Thursday by California authorities.
Law enforcement made 50 early-morning arrests during a sweep in San Diego County to round up the suspects charged with stealing and selling the goods.
Authorities said they had made the largest dent in an “organized crime network” in more than three years.
“Through solid investigative work and collaboration this task force effectively shut down a large organized crime network committing numerous felonies,” said Dave Jones, the state’s insurance commissioner.
The investigation began as authorities looked into numerous stolen vehicles in the San Diego area, according to the district attorney.
Seven active-duty Marines, one Navy sailor, and seven former Marines were arrested as part of the bust, according to the district attorney.
The suspects are accused of stealing and selling military equipment from Camp Pendleton in Southern California, including Kevlar helmets, high-capacity magazines, night-vision goggles, gas masks, and bullet-proof vests, according to the San Diego County district attorney’s office.
The sting, dubbed “Operation Perfect Storm,” also netted 92 stolen vehicles, methamphetamines and ecstasy, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition and high capacity magazines. The value of the stolen goods was estimated at $1 million, according to authorities.
According to the DA’s office, law enforcement officials set up an undercover storefront location in San Diego County and, after infiltrating criminal groups throughout the county, invited them to sell stolen goods at the storefront location.
The alleged criminals were then videotaped trying selling stolen vehicles, weapons, and drugs to undercover detectives.
Authorities presented evidence to a grand jury over an eight-day period, including testimony from more than 90 witnesses.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which investigates alleged crimes in the military, was involved with the operation and worked with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the San Diego Auto Theft Task Force on the case, according to the district attorney’s office.
Suspects face up to 25 years in state prison.
Nineteen of the defendants faced arraignment in San Diego Superior Court Thursday, while 31 others that were arrested posted bond and will return for arraignments at a later date. Police are still seeking 14 of those indicted.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Angela Dewan, CNN
Andreas Preuss, CNN
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Lisa Respers France, CNN