HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — A man who has allegedly been stealing cars and dismantling them for parts since 2019 was arrested this week.
Ignacio Ulisis Castaneda, 36, is charged with tampering with a record and two counts of theft between $30,000 and $150,000.
Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen said they have identified two cars stolen from The Heights linked to this case. Surveillance video shows a black wrecker pull up outside two homes on separate days and tow one car from a driveway and the other from the street in front of a home.
“They had an AirTag in their vehicle, and it pinged. So our officer was able to get in touch with the person and go and find where the pinging was coming from,” Constable Rosen said.
The tracking device led them to a chop shop near Airline and Mitchell roads, according to court records. Law enforcement found the vehicles, but they were totaled. Photos taken by Precinct 1 show SUVs completely stripped of all their parts.
“These particular cars have been taken apart, and each part has been sold,” Rosen said.
After several weeklong investigations, Castaneda was arrested, and his wrecker was seized.
Rosen said there “could be” others involved. He believes their investigation will reveal other stolen cars linked to the case, leading to additional charges being filed.
“We have come up with two (cars), and we anticipate there could be as many as 100,” Rosen said. “I believe it’s going to really sort of explode into a much bigger case. We do have some concerns that it may have involved other wrecker drivers because we do have video of other wrecker drivers coming to pick up some of the parts that were being chopped up.”
He referred to Castaneda’s use of a wrecker as “slick.”
“You’re sort of disarmed when you see a wrecker truck backing up to a car,” the constable explained. “You think maybe the car is being repossessed? Maybe it’s being taken to a dealership to get repaired.”
The constable said it also allows the person operating the wrecker to say they have the wrong vehicle if the owner confronts them.
He suggests putting a tracking device in your car in case it is stolen.
“It was a game changer for this case because it led us right to the spoils of the crime. So I encourage people to put tags on their vehicles,” Rosen said.