Several Jeep owners returned to their cars parked at a Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport parking garage after trips in recent months to find their headlights missing, their hoods unlatched or their front grilles damaged.
Two South Florida men have been arrested in connection with the string of thefts, and the Broward Sheriff’s Office said detectives believe the same men were involved in similar thefts at Miami and Palm Beach International airports in the past few months.
Jonathan Quintero, 22, of Hollywood, and Diogenes Morel Martinez, 25, of Fort Lauderdale, were arrested Saturday after Sheriff’s Office detectives surveilled the Hibiscus Garage that afternoon and saw them in a silver 2015 Nissan Altima “slowly and meticulously” driving on multiple floors and targeting two Jeep Wranglers, a probable cause affidavit said.
They used an electric drill to remove the headlights from one black and one white Jeep Wrangler on Saturday afternoon, taking turns acting as lookouts, police said. Deputies were watching them from feet away, the affidavit said.
Quintero and Morel Martinez drove off from the parking garage, and deputies followed them, the affidavit said. The men left the Nissan in the area of Southwest 18th Avenue and Northwest Fourth Court and carried a red tool bag as they got into another car.
Deputies then followed the men to Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise, the affidavit said. The Sheriff’s Office said “they tried to commit a similar crime” at the mall and were taken into custody.
The affidavit said a “prolific amount” of Jeep-part thefts had occurred at the Fort Lauderdale airport recently, totaling 28 criminal complaints. Palm Beach International Airport documented 18 criminal complaints with similar parts being stolen and 14 at Miami International Airport. The affidavit did not give a time frame for the alleged criminal complaints.
A commonality deputies found during the investigation was that the suspects were using a silver Nissan Altima, according to the affidavit. Security cameras in the parking garage recorded suspects who arrived in the Altima canvassing the garage on Aug. 31 shortly before noon. The suspects, later identified as Morel Martinez and Quintero, approached multiple parked Jeeps, making stops in between at the parked Altima before walking or driving to another row of cars on different levels, the affidavit said.
Detectives using law enforcement databases and surveillance footage earlier this month found that the possible driver of the Altima on Aug. 31 was Morel Martinez, who had been arrested by Hollywood Police in April, the affidavit said. Court records show he was arrested on a warrant relating to a still-pending misdemeanor traffic criminal case from 2022.
Deputies contacted the Hollywood Police officer who arrested Morel Martinez in April and showed him the surveillance footage from the parking garage. The officer identified Morel Martinez as the suspect in the video, the affidavit said.
When the two men were arrested Saturday, deputies found a 9 mm handgun in Morel Martinez’s waistband. The affidavit said both admitted to the theft that day and both identified themselves in the August surveillance footage from the parking garage.
The Sheriff’s Office said investigators believe Morel Martinez and Quintero stole headlights and grilles from dozens of Jeeps parked at the three South Florida airports in the past few months. Miami-Dade Police and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office are still investigating the thefts.
Quintero faces two counts of possession of burglary tools with intent to use, six counts of unarmed burglary of an unoccupied conveyance, five counts of grand theft, one count of misdemeanor petit theft and three counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief, court and jail records show.
Morel Martinez faces two counts of possession of burglary tools with intent to use, two counts of armed burglary of a conveyance or structure, five counts of grand theft, four counts of unarmed burglary of an unoccupied conveyance, three counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief and one count of misdemeanor petit theft, court and jail records show.
They were held in the Broward Main Jail as of Monday evening.