HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Three men have active warrants for their arrests as part of an auto theft ring targeting Houston's airports.
Marco Castillo and Joe Angel Aguirre, both 22 years old, are charged with aggregate theft of at least $300,000. The identity of the third suspect is unknown.
Officer Daniel Davila, who works Houston Police's Bush Airport Crime Suppression Team, said they believe between eight to 10 people are involved in stealing cars from the terminal garages. The case is still being actively investigated.
"They're definitely educated in knowing when and how to target vehicles," Davila said.
He said there does not appear to be a certain area of the garages that they target or specific areas travelers can park to avoid the thieves.
They are after certain types of cars, according to Davila. Chevy Camaro ZL1s, Chevy Silverados, GMC Sierras, and Dodge Ram TRXs are popular amongst the ring.
"They know the people that leave may not be at the garages again for another five days to a bare minimum of two days," Davila said.
According to charging documents, the auto theft ring is accused of hitting both Bush and Hobby's garages in February and May, stealing at least seven cars.
One man, whose 2019 Cadillac CTS was parked in the IAH Terminal C garage, got a notification on his phone shortly after his flight departed on Feb. 27 saying his car was being tampered with.
Davila reviewed surveillance video from the garage's entrance camera and wrote in charging documents that he noticed a black Nissan Altima with no front plate and black rims enter the parking garage at 7:30 a.m.
Exit cameras showed the victim's Cadillac leaving the garage at 9:09 a.m. and pulling up to the exit toll booths. The investigator saw Aguirre driving the stolen vehicle that had a broken sunroof.
Aguirre put a parking ticket in the toll machine, paid cash, and drove off.
"I have arrested and charged Joe Aguirre for several similar Auto Thefts and know him by name and sight," Davila noted in charging documents.
Aguirre was wearing the same "LEE" t-shirt that Davila said he was wearing last year when he stole a GMC Sierra from Bush Airport.
Davila spotted the Nissan Altima two cars behind the victim's stolen car. He noted that the Altima has been involved in "several recent vehicle theft investigations which led to criminal charges at Houston area airport." The charging document said Castillo was driving that vehicle on Feb. 27.
Investigators located the stolen Cadillac parked at Aguirre's home in northwest Houston. During the recovery of that stolen vehicle, Davila said they found a Dodge Ram TRX parked across the street and learned it was stolen from Hobby Airport on Feb. 27.
Another victim listed in the charging document told ABC13 over the phone that he returned from a trip to find his Chevy Camaro ZL1 missing. He said he parked at the A/B Terminal garage because he believed it would be safer than parking off-site.
The man, who did not want to be identified, said he used the online system to reserve a parking spot for his car. He left a printed-out copy of the reservation in his car when he left on his trip, but it was not used to get his car out of the garage.
Davila said he does not have evidence to prove that the car theft ring is responsible for thefts from offsite parking lots.
"I personally arrested (Aguirre) before, and before it was pretty much him and just one other person, but since then, it's gotten more elaborate, and he has more people that he's working with," Davila told ABC13 on Wednesday.
Aguirre is out on bond for a 2022 charge of aggregate theft between $150,000 and $300,000 for stealing cars from Houston airports, court records show.
The ABC13 Data Team found that one in every 25 cars stolen in the City of Houston was taken from Bush and Hobby airports and the surrounding areas.
Over the last 12 months, more than 800 cars were stolen between the two airports. About 700 of those came from IAH, which makes it the top area for stolen cars in the city.
Sgt. Tracy Hicks with HPD's Auto Theft Division suggests beefing up security on vehicles that will be parked at the airport.
"It's old school, you know, getting a steering wheel lock, a club of sorts," Hicks said. "It locks your steering wheel. Is it defeatable? Yes, but there are so many different cars. If you're looking for a specific car, why not take the one that doesn't have it?"
He also mentioned putting a tracker of some kind or an additional alarm on the vehicle.
"You can call the Houston Police Department and say, 'Hey, my car is on the freeway. I'm out of town, and it shouldn't be,'" Hicks said.
If you have any information about this case, authorities urge you to call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.