International biker gang member pleads guilty to local Jeep thefts

SAN DIEGO — A member of an international biker gang pleaded guilty Tuesday to his role in a scheme to steal more than 150 Jeep Wranglers throughout San Diego County and send them to Mexico, where they were sold or stripped for parts.

Jimmy Josue Martinez, 33, of Tijuana, admitted to participating in the theft of around $4.5 million worth of Jeep Wranglers since 2014. Prosecutors said the gang members stole the vehicles by using handheld electronic devices and stolen key codes, allowing them to create duplicate Jeep keys.

The gang members were able to use the duplicate keys to disable the Jeeps’ alarm systems and access the vehicles, which were typically snatched in the span of “a few minutes, in the middle of the night, while unsuspecting owners slept nearby.”

The thefts occurred in Pacific Beach, Serra Mesa, Chula Vista, Mission Valley, Ocean Beach, Hillcrest and North Park, prosecutors said.

Martinez was arrested in November 2014 after leading San Diego police officers on a pursuit in a stolen Jeep that exceeded 120 mph along Interstate 805, according to prosecutors, who said Martinez’s plea agreement included admissions that he rammed a car stopped in front of him multiple times in order to get around the driver and head across the border into Mexico.

“The joy ride is over for Mr. Martinez,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said. “These thefts were audacious and sophisticated and created hassle and heartache for scores of Jeep owners.”

Martinez pleaded Tuesday to a single count of conspiracy to commit transportation of stolen vehicles in foreign commerce and faces a maximum term of five years in federal prison, as well as paying nearly $250,000 in restitution. He’s slated to be sentenced June 24.

Eight other gang members were charged, five of whom have also pleaded guilty, while three remain at large.

FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner said the case served as “a reminder that our proximity to the international border provides increased opportunity for transnational organized crime.”

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