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Crime & Courts

Police: Discovery of stolen cars leads to theft ring in Eagle River

Lt. Jared Tuia, head of the Burglary and Fraud Unit at the Anchorage Police Department talks about the ongoing case of a stolen car ring off of Hiland Road in Eagle River, Alaska on Thursday, October 5, 2017. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

Anchorage police say they've uncovered a theft ring with links to other criminal activity after finding stolen cars at an Eagle River house known for nuisance calls.

"It's a big find," said Lt. Jared Tuia, head of the Anchorage Police Department's burglary and fraud unit, on Thursday.

The discovery came shortly after midnight on Sept. 27, after police arrested two men driving stolen vehicles near the house near Hiland Road on Stonehill Drive.

Authorities found at least eight vehicles with stripped interiors, including two trucks with exteriors "in good shape," court records show. They found other cars, too. Some were stolen, some not, Tuia said.

They recovered "a great deal" of stolen items from the property, including cellphones and other electronic items, Tuia said.

Now, police are probing multiple possibilities. The rental house, on a 50,000-square-foot property on a dead-end road near Chugach State Park, may have been a "chop shop" to disassemble and repackage stolen cars, Tuia said. Police are investigating whether car parts and other stolen items were sold for drugs.

"We're looking at stolen vehicles in north Mountain View that may be linked back to this address," Tuia said. Another possible link connects the property to a purse stolen from the 5th Avenue Mall, after which someone took money from the victim's account, Tuia said.

"We're looking at further arrests down the road," he said.

Car thefts have soared in Anchorage. Police report 2,018 cars stolen this year, through August. Two years ago during the same period, 652 cars were stolen, according to figures provided by police spokesman MJ Thim.

Police recovered 92 percent of stolen vehicles this year, the figures show.

The find at Stonehill came after police received a report from neighbors of multiple vehicles coming, going and speeding. Police had responded more than eight times to the address in the past.

Court documents list Eric and Lynnetta Marcellus as the property owners. They were already in the process of evicting the tenants, Thim said.

Police saw a truck and SUV leaving the area near the house, towing trailers. The truck had no license plates. Police stopped it at Stonehill and Hiland.

That led to the arrest of Stevenson Alo, 29, for driving a stolen vehicle after leaving the house. His license was suspended.

The truck was one of seven cars stolen from Dependable Used Cars in Anchorage on Sept. 23, according to charges brought by the state Sept. 27.

Next, a man riding a Honda motorcycle left the house and asked police why they were there, Tuia said.

The motorcycle was stolen. Navy Tauinaola, 34, said he didn't know who owned it, but said it came from the Stonehill house's garage, court records show. He was driving with a revoked license.

Joel Haag reported the motorcycle stolen on Sept. 19. When he returned from work that Tuesday, it was no longer outside his Rogers Park house. He'd locked the front wheel.

"They must have picked up the front of the bike and rolled it on its back wheels," loading it into a truck bed or trailer, Haag said.

It was severely damaged after it was stolen. The key cylinder was busted out. A bandanna covered the screwdriver shoved inside that acted as the key. The bike had "road rash" down both sides, as though it crashed at high speeds, he said.

"It must have hit the ground hard at a decent pace because quite a bit of metal scraped off," he said. "It was like someone took a grinder and held it there."

Haag figures someone was trying to make the motorcycle "their own," to disguise it.

Alo and Tauinaola are charged with first-degree vehicle theft and driving without licenses.

Alo was released on $750 bail, Tauinaola on $1,500 bail, court records show.

Tuia said the investigation is just starting. He credited the public for calling in the reports.

"This stems from the public helping us out," he said. "It allows us to quickly respond, and then we can move fast and get these arrests."

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