An investigation of what police initially thought was an isolated problematic property in a west Mesa neighborhood turned into dozens of arrests at multiple residences involving a stolen property trafficking ring consisting of career criminals who mostly sold cars for drugs.

During a three-month period, from early September to late December, Mesa police netted 43 arrests during an investigation called Operation Hornet’s Nest that involved both men and women stealing cars and electronics to support heroin and meth habits, according to police.

The investigation by five officers began after police began recovering a number of stolen cars near a residence in the 1700 block of West University Drive near Dobson Road.

Of the 43 arrests on auto theft, armed robbery, forgery from counterfeiting and drug-related offenses, many of the suspects were repeat offenders and were wanted on outstanding felony warrants including those for child molestation, parole violations and organized retail theft that affected Target and Home Depot stores. All of the suspects have been charged, and most are progressing through the court system.

In addition to recovering stolen vehicles, some that were taken by carjacking, Mesa officers, assisted by Tempe and Phoenix police, also confiscated a small number of firearms and stolen medical equipment from an office.

Police expect to make a handful of additional arrests connected to the ring.

“We were amazed at all of the people going in and out of that house,” said Mesa police Sgt. Ryan Russell who oversaw the operation. “The house seemed to be involved in a lot of criminal activity. We thought it was confined to the one residence, but it kept growing and we kept arresting more people. At first, we thought this was just eight to 10 people.”

Overall, the house, which was described as a rundown rental property, had received about 40 calls for service throughout the last year and now, its owner has been ordered to move the tenants out, which included one of the main players and his father, who police say was not involved in the alleged criminal activity.

Seth Williams, 31, a key player who lived at the residence on University that had been under surveillance by police, was arrested on suspicion of theft of means of transportation, forgery, organized retail theft and trafficking in stolen property.

Other arrests included numerous gang members, as well as Richard Trujillo and Cipriano Guevara, members of the Arizona Mexican Mafia, and a man accused of child molestation connected to a white supremacist group.

David Hickey, who belongs to the white supremacist group, Aryan Brotherhood, also was arrested and was wanted on an outstanding warrant from the U.S. Marshal’s Service for child molestation offenses in another state, police said.

Other arrests included ex-con Matthew Layman, who was wanted on an Arizona Department of Corrections parole violation, according to police.

“It was all about money and drugs,” Detective Mark Beckett said. “They were only getting about $200 a car or a little more, and they were taking the money to support a drug habit.”

The suspects, Beckett and Russell said, were arrested as officers observed them committing a crime.

“We didn’t want to wait and arrest them all together,” Beckett said. “We wanted to arrest them as they committed the crime. The longer we left them on the streets, they more likely they were going to commit another crime.”

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