3 men linked to alleged auto theft ring in Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A big bust is underway for the Houston Police Department's Auto Theft Division and they say they may have just scratched the surface.

Three men have been charged with engaging in organized crime.

Forty-nine stolen vans were located full of tools from AC techs to plumbers and construction crews.

A mom says while she cares for her six children, her husband is typically gone all day working construction.

"Every day he works Monday through Saturday, from 6 in the morning to 7 at night," said Jasmine.

His work van has been stolen twice, right next to the house.

"They want money the easy way," Jasmine said.

Sgt. Tracy Hicks with HPD's Auto Theft Division said, "Every single one of these stories is heartbreaking." He says thieves pull a wrecker up to the work vans and tow them away.

Next, they take out the tools that are easy to pawn, strip them out, then take the vans to scrap metal yards, where they falsify title records. Then the vans are crushed for quick cash.

"These guys carry everything that they use to make their living in these vans. That's what they were targeting," said Sgt. Hicks.

A major ring has been busted by HPD, who says they've been tracking stolen vans since September totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Melvin Banks, 54, is the alleged ringleader; Benjamin Noble, 41; and Jason Thornton, 27, are all charged with engaging in organized crime.

Families and workers are now taking extra steps to prevent theft, from cameras to even welding the locks shut. While some owners will never see their crushed vans again, the hope is that the arrests may prevent the next worker from losing part of their livelihood.

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