Suspect in Hundreds of Car Thefts Is Arrested

Times Staff Writer

An ex-convict who served time for auto theft has been arrested in an operation in which identification numbers of hundreds of stolen cars were altered before the cars were sold to unsuspecting buyers, police said Wednesday.

San Diego police arrested Robert Stewart Ryan, 45, on suspicion of eight counts each of auto theft, possessing stolen property and grand theft.

A police spokesman said Ryan surrendered Tuesday because he was aware police were after him. He was taken to County Jail and released on $2,000 bail.

Police said that, since Feb. 10, they have recovered eight vehicles that they believe Ryan stole. They believe Ryan altered the identification numbers of hundreds of stolen vehicles since he was released from state prison in 1982. He served two 18-month terms for auto theft and altering vehicle identification numbers, police said.

Police believe Ryan worked out of a garage at a residence in the 400 block of Palomar Street in Chula Vista. Ryan has rented the garage from the owner of the adjoining home since 1982, according to police. The owners of the house told police that Ryan told them he was fixing up used cars.

Police said Ryan specialized in stealing Volkswagens and worked alone.

They claim Ryan would buy a car, perhaps one without an engine, and use parts and the registration papers from that car to disguise a stolen vehicle of the same make.

According to police, Ryan then sold the stolen cars by advertising them in newspapers. Police said Ryan has several aliases, including Robert Lee, Victor Roberts, and Robert Brewer.

Police urged anyone who thinks they may have bought a car from Ryan to contact them.

"I know we're not going to be getting a lot of people wanting to come forward because they may end up losing their car if we do find out it's stolen," Detective Vic Morel said. "But, if you're . . . stopped by police . . . and it is discovered to be stolen . . . there's a good chance you may end up spending a night or two in jail trying to explain why the numbers on your car don't match up."

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