LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Investigators say at least 15 victims had their vehicles stolen, lured through Facebook by two people who offered in most cases $10,000 to deliver merchandise to Fresno-half of the money up-front.
"They insisted that it was legal merchandise. The victims did not suspect they were going to be involved in any illegal activity," said project director for the taskforce for regional auto theft prevention (TRAP) of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Captain Martin Rodriguez.
Authorities arrested Jose Luis Parga and Arnulfo Florentino Lira of Bell Gardens. Both have pleaded not guilty to theft and conspiracy, among other charges.
According to law enforcement, they targeted Spanish-speaking residents. They would allegedly set up a meeting at different retail parking lots in South Gate like Walmart, Petco and Curacao. "Once in the parking lot, the suspects took control of the victims' vehicles and stole them. On some occasions, the suspects persuaded the victims to rent vehicles and ultimately stole the rental vehicles," said Rodriguez.
South Gate Police and the LA County Sheriff's Department accuse the suspects of producing firearms and carjacking the victims in some instances. "One authentic firearm and one replica firearm was recovered during a subsequent search of the residence of the suspect," he said.
According to law enforcement, the suspects were being surveilled when they were arrested.
"They were seen meeting with one of the victims and taking possession of the victim's car. At that point, law enforcement intervened," said Rodriguez.
The victims remain without their cars. Authorities say they're working on retrieving at least one vehicle that was recovered in Mexico where they believe most vehicles were transported to.
"The greatest tip is if it's too good to be true, it's probably not true," said Rodriguez.
The cases reportedly happened in January and investigators are looking for anyone else who may have been a victim. The suspects are scheduled for a court hearing in March.