(CBS News) More than a dozen current and former Marines are accused of taking part in a stolen car ring in San Diego. The suspects may have stolen vehicles and weapons from their own base.
Earlier this week, federal, state and local law enforcement officers fanned out across San Diego and arrested 50 people suspected of taking part in a massive auto theft ring involving 92 vehicles worth nearly $700,000.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said, "Of those 50 that were arrested there, really are military, seven Marines who are active duty, as well as seven who have separated from service."
Nineteen of the suspects pleaded not guilty in San Diego Superior Court on Thursday. The others are awaiting a hearing date. The incident goes far beyond a simple case of auto theft.
"It's connected to not just car thieves, auto thieves, but it's connected to military contraband, drugs, methamphetamine, cocaine, as well as guns," Dumanis said. "All that... makes it a pretty startling case."
Authorities seized everything from stolen bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets to night-vision goggles and gas masks. Police suspect some of it was looted from nearby Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
"Marines, our military, are human," Dumanis said. "And as any human, they sometimes do bad things. But it is disappointing."
Officials at Camp Pendleton had no comment on the case, but local law enforcement says the military has fully cooperated in what is now a 10-month long investigation. Only a small portion of those indicted are connected to the military, but those individuals, like all the suspects in the case, now face up to 25 years in prison.