by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:
MONROE, N.C. - Three Monroe teenagers are facing multiple felony charges after police said they stole cars to join a gang.
Authorities arrested Eduardo Cortes, 17, and Angel Maldonado, 16, Thursday, and arrested Marco Tinoco, 17, Friday morning.
Police said the three teenagers were responsible for a rash of Honda Civics stolen from around Monroe since mid-November, nearly a dozen in all.
"The method they developed, they developed specifically for the Honda Civic," said Sgt. Mike Smith, noting the teens did manage to hotwire one Honda Accord.
In most cases, officers said the teens would strip the cars of audio equipment, take them for a joy ride, and then dump the vehicles near city parks or vacant lots.
"Out of 12 vehicles stolen, all have been recovered but three," Smith said.
Smith said a break in the case came last week when a Union County deputy made a traffic stop. Inside the car, investigators said they found the three teens, and learned the Civic was stolen.
Authorities said the teens then confessed to the crimes during interviews and admitted to stealing at least two more cars in Charlotte.
Monroe police are working with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department detectives on those cases.
Investigators believe the thefts were part of a gang initiation into "Los Malditos," or "M13," a local Hispanic gang.
"Most of the time, their entry into these gangs involves them committing crimes -- stealing cars, breaking into houses, spray painting graffiti around. That is a community problem. That affects everybody," Smith said.
Residents who live near where the cars were stolen called the teens' arrests worrisome.
"Yeah, it worries me, it worries me. They are dangerous. They are very dangerous fellas," said resident Susan Williams.a