Two Sacramento men allegedly earlier this week pleaded not guilty to 17 felony charges in court Friday, as authorities continue to investigate the rash of auto parts thefts that has plagued the county this winter.
Thai Vue, 27, and Seng Her, 29, were arrested early Wednesday after vigilant residents on Clifford Avenue noticed them lurking around cars in a parking lot and called 911.
Investigators suspect Vue and Her may be part of a larger theft ring run by Asian gangs in the Central Valley, though Assistant District Attorney Charlie Baum said Friday he wasn't aware of the men having any gang ties
"It does strike me as an unusual coincidence that six groups of Asians from Sacramento are stealing catalytic converters in Santa Cruz," Baum said.
No other arrests have been made. Baum said Her and Vue could be suspects in all of the thefts, most of which occurred in Santa Cruz.
"I hope these aren't the last arrests," Baum added.
When Vue and Her were arrested Wednesday, they reportedly had a stolen car, burglary tools, and three different catalytic converters, and were in the process of stealing a fourth catalytic converter. Vue also had methamphetamine, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The two accused thieves, who are from Thailand, live in the same Sacramento neighborhood as , Baum said.
The auto parts are valuable because they contain platinum and other precious metals. Baum said there is some evidence the catalytic converters are being shipped overseas, possibly to Southeast Asia.
In court Friday, Judge Paul Burdick released Vue without any bail being posted. Her, who faces drug charges in addition to the theft crimes, is being held in County Jail on $25,000 bail. Both will return to court Feb. 21 for a preliminary hearing, at which time Burdick will decide if there is enough evidence to go to trial.