Hackers wrangle Jeep Cherokees & Dodges over border into Mexico

2014_jeep_cherokee_4dr-suv_latitude_fq_oem_1_500Two hackers/car theives are in prison in Houston and accused of using pirated computer software to steal more than 100 vehicles. Michael Arce, 24, and Jesse Zelaya, 22, stole new Jeep and Dodge vehicles that bring high prices in Mexico. Police found  electronic devices, keys and other tools believed used in the thefts, along with drugs, firearms and body armor. First they cut wires to the horn and alarm then used a laptop computer with a database to reprogram the keyfob for the vehicles.

It is believed they used automotive diagnostic software in their thefts.

Houston Police h filed charges  against two suspects arrested and believed responsible for the theft and illegal export of more than 100 vehicles, specifically trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in the Houston area.

One suspect, Michael Armando Arce (w/m, 24), is charged with felon in possession of a weapon, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in the 179th State District Court.  The second suspect, Jesse Irvin Zelaya (H/m, 22), is charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in the 184th State District Court.

On May 25, the Houston Police Department Auto Theft Division initiated an investigation into the theft of a Jeep Wrangler near downtown Houston.   At that time, Auto Theft investigators exhausted all workable leads.  On July 25, investigators obtained information from the United States Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Immigration Enforcement regarding vehicles being stolen utilizing a laptop computer.  Investigators identified Arce and Zelaya as suspects in the thefts.  Zelaya and Arce are believed to have stolen Jeep Wranglers, Cherokees and Dodge pickup trucks and then transported them across the U.S. Mexico border, usually in the overnight hours before vehicle owners were aware they had been stolen.

On July 30, officers from the HPD Central Patrol Division Tactical Unit, North Patrol Division Tactical Unit, Gang Division, and the Auto Theft Division conducted an operation that resulted in the arrests of Arce and Zelaya.  Officers also recovered electronic devices, keys and other tools believed to have been utilized in the thefts.  Narcotics, firearms and body armor were also recovered.

The investigation is continuing with more arrests and charges possible.

FCA released an official statement in regards to the thefts.

“FCA US takes the safety and security of its customers seriously and incorporates security features in its vehicles that help to reduce the risk of unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems and wireless communications. FCA US has been cooperating with Houston Police Department since they first started the investigation. This investigation is ongoing and as such, the company has no further comment.”

In the meantime Dodge and Jeep owners can use alternative locking devices such as steel steering or brake pedal lock.

Anyone with additional information in these cases is urged to contact the HPD Auto Theft Division at 713-308-3500 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.