LAWRENCEVILLE - After noticing a trend in vehicle-related thefts in the county, Gwinnett County police set up an undercover operation to catch potential thieves - and it worked.
Cpl. Darren Moloney, Police Department spokesman, said officers placed a bait vehicle in the parking lot of a local shopping center with the doors unlocked, windows down and a purse and other enticing items in view.
"We've noticed a steady amount of stolen vehicles and objects taken from vehicles," Moloney said. "I don't have an exact number. Sometimes it's 20 a week, and that 20 can include stolen cars or items stolen from those cars. Or it could be seven in a week - it fluctuates."
Three men took the bait Saturday, according to police. Moloney said 20-year-old Chuck Trueson Settambrino of Buford, 18-year-old Nicholas Scott Meyer of Suwanee and 20-year-old Keith Anthony Scott of Tucker pulled a red truck up next to the target vehicle and began intensely peering inside as they walked by.
Moloney said the men turned around to go back to the vehicle and one was seen reaching inside the target vehicle's window to take the purse and then put it in their vehicle.
Two of the men drove away while the remaining one walked toward the shopping center, but Moloney said all three were stopped and arrested.
Settambrino was charged with obstruction because he was driving the vehicle when they allegedly attempted to flee. The 20-year-old was also charged with felony entering a motor vehicle. Scott and Meyer face the same felony charges for entering a vehicle, Moloney added.
Moloney said Meyer is the only one of the group who has not been arrested in the past. Scott was previously charged with felony aggravated assault as well as traffic, drug and alcohol-related charges, Moloney said. Settambrino was charged with traffic-related violations and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Moloney said investigators plan to have more undercover jobs like the one Saturday, but said he is unsure how many or when investigators are planning to execute the operations.
In addition to the department's work, Moloney said community members can also help reduce the crimes by locking their car doors and rolling up the windows.
"The best thing is to roll up windows, keep doors locked, keep purses, computers and valuables out of view," Moloney said. "And that goes for cars parked in driveways and in front of houses."