Suspects arrested for Honda Civic thefts

In the fall of 2009, Honda Civics began to disappear from the city of Kent. Five were plucked from campus parking lots, and two others were stolen off campus.

The thefts were no coincidence; Honda Civics on several college campuses were targeted.

Nearly 18 months after the first thefts, a joint investigation by the Cleveland Police Department and the Ohio State Patrol has led to the arrests of 35 people, said Christopher Jenkins, lieutenant of investigations at the Kent State Police Department.

The thefts in Kent were part of a much larger auto theft ring centered in Cleveland, according to an indictment last month from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

In early May, the indictment stated there were 35 people issued warrants on a total of 258 charges from crimes committed over the past four years: auto theft, receiving stolen property, records tampering and conspiracy, among others. The list of indictments identifies the suspects as 24 Hispanic males, eight Hispanic females, one white male, and one black male.

Juan Hernandez, now 20, and Victor Padilla, 24, were additionally charged with involuntary manslaughter stemming from the deaths of two men last year after a high-speed chase on Interstate 77.

The ring often targeted cars from colleges in northeast Ohio, including the University of Akron and Lakeland Community College, and area shopping malls. The suspects brought them back to their chop shops around Cleveland and stripped them of their parts.

In November 2009, five Civics were stolen within a six-day period: one on the 1200 block of East Main Street, one in the Ice Arena parking lot, two in the 900 block of Morris Road near the Schwartz Center and one in the R-5 Math & Nursing parking lot. The sixth Civic was stolen from the C-Science lot in January, and the seventh was stolen in the Terrace-C lot in February.

Honda Civics were appealing to the thieves because their parts could be stripped and easily installed in other cars.

“There were a couple of particular years of Honda Civics, mid-90s to late-90s, where there was a particular engine that was sought after, as well as the component parts and the aftermarket parts that the owners would put on the Honda Civics,” said Jenkins.

In 2009, the 1995 Honda Civic was the second most stolen car in the country, behind only the 1994 Honda Accord, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The 2000 Civic was the third most stolen car in Ohio.

The indictment says the ring lawfully purchased cheap cars and replaced their vital parts with parts from the stolen Civics. They then sold those cars, using the legitimate vehicle identification numbers, for profit.

“Some were completely stripped of all their interior components as well as engines and transmissions,” Jenkins said about the cars specifically stolen at Kent State. “A couple we recovered in the city of Cleveland — it really appeared as if they were just rolled down the street having no motor or transmission.”

All but one of the 35 people indicted posted bail, according to Cuyahoga County court records. Juan Hernandez, also charged with involuntary manslaughter, did not post his bail, set at $150,000. Victor Padilla, also charged with involuntary manslaughter, posted $100,000 bail. Eight members posted $25,000 bail, one posted $2,500 bail, and the others posted between $5,000 and $10,000.

All of the accused ring members are due back in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas on Thursday, June 9, for a pretrial conference.

Contact Summer Kent Stater reporter Doug Brown at [email protected].