Inside Operation SCARLET, CMPD’s task force to stop high-end car theft

CHARLOTTE — For months, Channel 9 has shown video of thieves breaking into car dealerships around our area, stealing cars right off the showroom floor.

Now, a new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department task force is working to stop these crimes. Channel 9′s crime reporter Hunter Sáenz got an inside look at the operation that’s proving successful in Charlotte and around the country.

It’s called Operation SCARLET, which stands for “Stolen Car and Recovery Law Enforcement Team.” It’s a task force that started in Charlotte and has led to multiple arrests and the seizure of more than 130 stolen cars across several states.

The dealership break-ins and luxury-loving thieves are the types of criminals CMPD has been targeting for months.

“Our patrol officers are finding these vehicles weekly,” said CMPD Capt. Bret Balamucki.

Balamucki and Lt. Warith Muhammad help lead Operation SCARLET. The task force targets the organized crime rings that are stealing high-end vehicles.

Those criminals include people who, back in February, drove off with three BMWs and a Maserati from Adams Auto Group on East Independence Boulevard.

“I would have never thought that this amount of stolen vehicles even existed prior to this operation,” Muhammad said.

Since April, Operation SCARLET has worked with state and federal agencies in 11 states, finding 132 stolen cars worth more than $11.5 million. Some cases have netted multiple stolen vehicles in the same driveway. 500 state felony charges have been filed on several suspects.

In Charlotte alone, the stolen cars have led police to seize more than $200,000 in cash, drugs, and more than 82 guns -- helping to solve other crimes, too.

“You’ve got homicides, you’ve got shootings into houses, you’ve got shootings. The most violent of the violent,” Balamucki said.

Detectives have made more than a dozen arrests, with many facing federal charges. Police are trying to send a message -- that crooks targeting high-end cars will have a high price to pay.

The operation isn’t over. Five more suspects who face state charges will face federal charges in the next couple of months, and more arrests could come. The five suspects are Reginald Hill, 24; Hosea Hampton, 25; Dewanne White, 44; Ja’Coryen Fields, 24; and Garyka Bost, 27.

(WACH BELOW: Group steals cars from Hickory dealership an hour after initial break-in, police say)

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.

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