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Updated Jan 13, 2014 - 9:32 pm

Arrests made in connection with theft of over 50 vehicles

Arrests have been made in an organized vehicle theft operation working out of Tempe and Mesa.

In December 2013, the Arizona Auto Theft Authority Task Force (AATA) and the Department of Public Safety "identified Benjamin Jaco Appell, 38, as a key player during the investigation," according to a press release.

Both organizations joined forces with the Mesa Police Department, which was also investigating Appell on vehicle theft suspicions, and a search warrant was issued for Appell on Jan. 3, 2014.

Appell was arrested and booked on several counts of transportation theft, conspiracy, trafficking in stolen property and drug sales.

During the investigation, detectives also linked Mario Esteban Jimenez, 28, to Appell, after conducting surveillance operations on him.

After crashing a stolen vehicle and attempting to then flee on foot to evade the authorities, Jimenez was arrested and booked on similar charges.

To date, the two men have stolen over 50 import vehicles, mainly Hondas and Nissans, near the Mesa/Tempe border, authorities said.

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