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23 in area caught up in auto theft ring
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SAVANNAH (AP) -- Authorities arrested 23 people, including a Statesboro police officer, in a multistate automobile theft ring.

The FBI announced the arrests Wednesday.

The people charged are accused of taking stolen vehicles, changing the identification numbers and then reselling them with counterfeit titles. Some people who bought the stolen vehicles sold or gave them back to the suspects, then reported them stolen themselves, according to the indictment.

"A conspiracy ring this large is pretty unusual," said Maggie Fitzgerald, public information officer for the city of Statesboro. "We don't have a lot of issues like this, especially something that involves investigation by the FBI. We don't have a lot of that caliber here."

Charges against the suspects include trafficking stolen motor vehicles, altering motor vehicle identification numbers, trafficking in motor vehicles with altered Vehicle Identification Numbers, possession of counterfeit state motor vehicle titles with the intent to defraud, and false statements to investigating federal law enforcement officers.

The investigation, which was led by the FBI, began more than a year ago when a citizen reported to authorities that a police officer was involved in an auto theft ring.

Fitzgerald said Statesboro officials knew of 45 automobiles stolen as part of the ring but she was not sure how long the alleged theft ring had been operating.

Statesboro police officer John Fitzgerald Jones, 43, was among those arrested after turning himself in to police.

Jones, who has been with the police department for more than seven years, has been placed on administrative leave. He was arraigned in federal court Wednesday and released on his own recognizance, Fitzgerald said.

At a news conference, Statesboro Police Chief Stan York expressed disappointment that one of his officers was charged in the case. Further disciplinary action for Jones would be up to the city manager, York said.

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