Salt Lake County sheriff's investigators were looking Thursday for an elusive car thief who is believed to be responsible for more than 20 stolen vehicles since the beginning of winter.
All of those thefts were the result of the man finding cars left unattended while they warmed up in driveways, said Sgt. Robby Russo.
In addition to those thefts, the man is believed to have stolen 15 new Ford Expeditions from Rick Warner Ford in July and August. As of Wednesday, all but one of those vehicles have been recovered.
Investigators believe the man was working in a ring with six others. Their operation is driven by the need to pay for drugs, Russo said.
One of the man's friends worked in an overflow lot for Rick Warner, Russo said. That friend would call the man when a new shipment of Expeditions came in and leave him keys for the vehicles.
When the operation of stealing new cars was discovered, police believe the man and another friend came up with a scheme to drive around neighborhoods early in the morning looking for cars that were left unattended while warming up.
The group used the stolen cars mostly as getaway vehicles in other crimes, such as forgery and shoplifting, to support their meth habits, said Russo.
They also worked out a plan where the stolen cars would be dropped off in different parking lots around the valley so if a group member got into a chase with police, he would know where to find a place to quickly switch vehicles and get away.
The man's six friends have been arrested. The main suspect investigators are looking for was released from jail Feb. 3 after a brief stay.