HOUSTON (KIAH) – Police in Houston announced a massive takedown of an organized auto theft ring that led to 25 charges for 23 people, including the major auto theft ringleader.

Houston Police and local crime prevention teams, worked months and resulted the arrest of ringleader, Mazimiliano Rodriguez, known as “Max.” He had over 30 prior arrests when he was finally captured this time in connection to a major auto theft ring. When he was arrested, he was also out on two separate bonds and still committing crimes. Including, recruiting the vulnerable and taking advantage of innocent buyers of stolen vehicles simultaneously. The Houston Police Auto Crimes Task Force believe Max is responsible for more than $10 million worth of stolen vehicles from the Houston area over the past few years.

Police and task force teams made the announcement Wednesday morning, explaining how Max committed his crimes for so long and what finally led to his takedown and capture. Lt. Tolan Harding is assigned to the Houston Auto Crimes Task Force, a multi-agency task force funded by Texas Motor Crime Prevention Authority. They focus on the Houston area. They and Houston Auto Crimes Task Force and the Downtown Crime Suppression Team were able to solve this case together through interviews, search warrants and surveillance.

Timeline of auto theft ring investigation

April 2021

Authorities said ‘Max’ was originally identified in April 2021 as an auto theft suspect, but they couldn’t link him to any auto thefts that were happening in the downtown area at that time.

June 2022

It wasn’t until June 2022, when Auto Crimes Task Force officers identified multiple suspect vehicles involved in the theft of high-end vehicles in downtown area.

June 7th, 2022

The assigned prevention teams began surveillance on those vehicles. It was on June 7th, 2022 when they finally first observed Max himself, breaking into vehicles, disabling the alarms. Then they drove away. Max and several other vehicles in connection, were stopped. Max and several others were charged in auto-theft crimes. But authorities still couldn’t connect him with any other high profile auto crimes.

June 23, 2022

Then on June 23rd, 2022, the Task Force, saw Max first-hand, along with another person, altering the VIN on the dashboard of another high-end vehicle. Max was arrested and charged again with an auto-theft crime.

July 2022

In July of 2022, the Task Force saw a special model Jeep Wrangler. The Jeep was being followed by Max and other suspects, leaving a high-end luxury complex. Authorities found out the vehicle was freshly stolen. Two vehicles with that Jeep, were also stolen with VINs altered.

After one of Max’s 2022 recent arrests, a search warrant was obtained to search Max’s phone. That revealed Max was linked to 32 other stolen vehicles on his phone with the value of $2.7M.

Authorities also found he had several key programming devices, which turned out, were involved in multiple vehicle thefts.

December 2022

From December 2022 onward, Max was on house arrest and had an ankle monitor. However, Max would continue to drive around during the day, looking for additional vehicles to steal. Only, he wouldn’t steal the vehicles he wanted. He hired workers to do the job.

As more vehicles were stolen, the Task Force conducted surveillance on those and more vehicles that were stolen. Also, during December 2022, the Houston Police Downtown Crime Suppression Team noticed in increase in thefts of high-end vehicles in luxury complexes and parking lots. That’s when authorities started surveillance of vehicles involved in those crimes. They made several in-progress arrests that led them closer to several more people involved in organized crime in not only downtown, but the Heights and Galleria areas.

Over the next several months, the Task Force made several arrests that talked about the same person, “Max” who led their crime training. Lt. Harding said “Max would provide them with a work phone, work car, programming device, blank keys, and fake paper plates. Max would also give them specific vehicles to steal. Once the vehicle was stolen, Max would pay them for their work. He would sometimes have his workers on Facetime as his workers drove around luxury complexes so he would direct them to vehicles he wanted them to steal.”

While conducting surveillance of Max, Houston Auto Crimes Task Force would also observe ‘dead drops,’ abandoned money that served as payment for his auto-theft worker to pick up after a job. One suspect had Max’s directive for the type of vehicle he wanted and where to take it afterward.

September 8, 2023

On September 8, 2023, multiple arrests and search warrants were executed at Max’s residence and on the co-defendants and their phones. Once again, Max and his workers were charged. This time for stolen property valuing over $1M.

One might wonder, what took so long to finally arrest Max for so many crimes that he’d done before?

Lt. Harding said “finding the affirmative links between Max and the stolen vehicles. He also recruited homeless and drug addicted people that he could hide behind.”

Adrian Longoria and Devani Laguna are two more young people charged but not in custody at the the time this article was published. They are believed to be involved in the day-to-day crime Max committed.

How Max sold the stolen vehicle to unsuspecting buyers

Not all the vehicles stolen have been recovered. Some were even sold to innocent purchasers who didn’t know the vehicles were stolen, victimizing innocent buyers as well.  

“Max would resell these vehicles on Facebook Marketplace or Offer Up for example. He would alter the VIN and sell it for a ‘too good to be true’ cash deal. Once the buyer took it to be registered, that’s when they would find out that the paperwork was no good and authorities would step in to identify it as stolen property. Most of the time, if there was a question of property ownership, there would be a hearing,” Lt. Harding said.

 “Don’t buy from people you don’t know because paying for it, ends up being a total loss for the victimized purchaser,” Finner said.

Will Max face jailtime? Chief Finner’s hope for justice

I really hope the criminal justice system looks at cases like this – $10M in vehicles we know about. This is a person who is a predator. He (Max) is causing havoc. I’ll let the courts do what they do, but hopefully everybody understands that people like this need to be locked up and in jail. Everyone has due process. Let’s do what we need to do as a collective criminal justice entity.

HPD Chief Finner

Message for those committing crimes like this

Chief Finner has a clear message for others who are committing crimes like these: “Keep committing crimes. We’re really serious about targeting those individuals. It takes thousands of hours to do the work but I’m serious about fighting crime in our city.”

How to keep from being a victim of auto theft

Lt. Tolan Harding has some suggestions for keep your vehicle from becoming a target of auto theft.

  • Aftermarket alarms
  • Old fashioned steering wheel clubs and
  • Tracking devices – Can lead to a drop location or chop shop too – they can be cheap too