Commuter parking lots along metro highways are becoming hotspots for thieves. Now, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is putting the brakes on a recent crime spree targeting its customers.
The park and ride parking lot at 122nd and I-35 is the only one of its kind in the metro owned by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. An undercover operation with the authority and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol has foiled a recent rash of theft at that location, but the same can't be said elsewhere.
The thieves are after catalytic converters. Cars in parking lots off busy Interstates have been hit hard in recent months.
"It takes a thief less than a minute to cut that catalytic converter off," Turnpike Authority spokesperson Jack Damrill said.
Damrill says earlier this year, the agency's lot became a popular spot for the cons to make some quick cash. Customers began complaining, but now the complaints have stopped because of some swift action.
"We decided to do some big undercover surveillance," Damrill said.
Of course, Damrill is not giving away the secrets to the undercover operation. But, as soon as the operation began, victims of past crimes received some satisfaction.
"When the trooper arrived at the car, the guy was still up underneath the car cutting the catalytic converter off," Damrill said. "So, he was caught red-handed."
State officials say Heber Linares is now behind bars on a grand larceny complaint for the theft. Damrill says the theft has stopped since the arrest. Troopers are not taking any chances. They're still watching.
Even though the theft has ended at the turnpike location, complaints from drivers are still coming in from other parking lots, including one owned by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation at I-40 and Choctaw Road.
State officials say most victims do not report the crimes, and that is what allows the theft to continue.
Experts say thieves can get up to $100 per converter.