When the Charles County Sheriff's Office announced the arrest this week of two men in connection with car thefts in Waldorf and Bryans Road, detectives said the operation reached beyond the county's borders.
The alleged ring, which authorities said stretched into Prince George's County and Baltimore, reflects the reasons Charles County has joined law enforcement agencies in neighboring jurisdictions to try to crack down on car thefts.
Charles County has assigned a detective to work in Prince George's with the Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement task force, a cadre of officers from agencies throughout the state, including Montgomery County, and the District.
"Charles County is so often on the fringes of these larger operations,'' said Sgt. Donald Stahl, who supervises the property crimes unit in the Charles Sheriff's Office. "This is an example of the kind of case that we'll be better able to handle now.''
On Monday, the sheriff's office announced the arrest of Derrick Leftridge of Waldorf and Terrance D. Dyson of Brandywine, who are accused of using tow trucks to steal cars from service stations and parking lots.
Detective Joseph Pratta said the men, targeting mainly older cars, towed them to several storage lots in Brandywine and then to a salvage yard in Baltimore to be crushed and sold for scrap metal.
"The more metal, the more money," said Pratta, who estimated that metal from a crushed van, for instance, sells for $400.
The investigation by the sheriff's office began in March and led detectives to a Baltimore scrap company. In April, Baltimore police arrested Leftridge at the salvage yard; he was charged with possession of two stolen cars and a van from Charles County.
Leftridge, who owns a towing company in Prince George's called Just Say Tow, told The Washington Post in May that he purchased the cars legally and did not know they were stolen.
Detectives later linked Leftridge, 34, to two other vehicles stolen with a tow truck that are the basis for the current charges of motor vehicle theft. Dyson, 42, is accused of stealing seven cars with trucks from Leftridge's company and others. He is charged with seven counts of motor vehicle theft.
Both men have been released on bond from the Charles County Detention Center.
In Maryland, Prince George's outpaces all other counties combined in the number of car thefts. Last year, about 50 cars were stolen in the county each day.
The numbers are less striking in Charles County. From 2003 to 2004, there was a slight decline, from 585 to 524 vehicles stolen, according to statistics from the state's Uniform Crime Report. Through April of this year, the county was on pace for a similar total, with 153 thefts.
Still, with two detectives assigned to investigate car thefts, the sheriff's office said it is often stretched. When cases lead outside the county, Stahl said, "it's very taxing on limited resources.''
"We go looking for the guy and find he is also stealing from other places. It gets pretty complicated."
Stahl is optimistic that the task force will make a difference.
"They are going out and recovering stolen cars and making arrests as we speak,'' Stahl said. "We're hopeful it will have an impact."