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Houston Thieves May Have Stolen More Than 100 Cars Using Laptops

Two suspects who police said they believe have stolen more than 100 vehicles in the Houston area have been arrested and charged.

Police think Michael Armando Arce, 24, and Jesse Irvin Zelaya, 22, were using laptops and electronic devices to disable alarms and break into dozens of SUVs. Then, police said, they believe the men drove the vehicles across the Mexican border overnight before the owners even realized their cars were gone. The cars — specifically Jeep Wranglers, Jeep Cherokees and Dodge pickups — have been disappearing since last November, said HPD spokesman Victor Senties.

For now, each suspect is charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, while Arce is also charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance —police found narcotics, as well as tools and electronics they think the suspects used to steal cars, at the time they arrested the pair. The Houston Police Department expects more charges will be filed and perhaps more arrests will be made as officers continue their investigation.

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Police made the arrests after catching Arce and Zelaya red-handed: They had apparently stolen a Jeep Grand Cherokee and driven to southwest Houston on July 30. HPD identified the two as suspects after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent police leads about thieves stealing cars using laptops, information the authorities received on July 25.

It was familiar to HPD. Back in April, the department received surveillance footage from a homeowner whose Jeep Wrangler was stolen from his driveway in the middle of the night. A man had got in using a laptop. Five other Cherokees had gone missing around the same time, leading police to believe these were serial car thieves. Senties, the police spokesman, said the thieves were using the laptop to manipulate the ignition system, but declined to provide further details. HPD Detective Jim Woods told KPRC at the time, "He has somehow figured out a way to use a computer system to somehow help him reprogram another car key. He’s convinced the computer in the car to marry itself to the key he’s shown up with.”

Senties said Houston police now believe Arce, Zelaya and possibly others are responsible for those stolen Cherokees as well as more than 100 others driven across the border over the past several months.

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