Car thefts net jail time
A former lot attendant gets 10 years for his "key" role in a ring
A former lot attendant for Cutter Ford was sentenced in Circuit Court to 10 years' imprisonment for stealing eight new vehicles for a car theft ring that also dealt in crystal methamphetamine and illegal firearms.
Marshall Acopan, 31, of Waipahu pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree theft and one count of second-degree theft resulting from a two-year undercover investigation that wrapped up in 2006.
In the undercover Operation Seaside, Honolulu police purchased and recovered 29 stolen vehicles -- including Ford trucks and SUVs -- with an estimated property value of $483,389.
While Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall noted that Acopan had strong family support and recognized he had a drug problem, she denied the defense's request for probation with 18 months' imprisonment, citing the extended period during which he engaged in the thefts.
Prosecutors described Acopan's role as a "key player, a key component" in the car theft ring and sought the 10-year term.
"It is deserved," said Deputy Prosecutor Leila Tanaka.
Acopan was supposed to stay out of trouble as a condition of a deferred guilty plea in an earlier, unrelated theft case. He was still under court supervision when he committed the thefts, Tanaka said.
Acopan's case illustrates what can happen to someone who becomes corrupted by drugs, said defense attorney William Jameson.
Acopan was first approached by a co-defendant David Santarone to secure the vehicles from Cutter Ford. Acopan drove the cars from the Cutter Ford lot to another location where they were picked up by another individual.
A heavy user of crystal methamphetamine at the time, Acopan believed it would earn him fast money to pay for his drug habit, said Jameson, who described his client as nonviolent.
"He helped to steal and after that wanted to stop," Jameson said. "He realized immediately he was in heavier that he thought."
By the time Acopan tried to back out, it was too late. They told him they knew where he lived, and Acopan, afraid for his and his family's safety, continued against his will, Jameson said. "When he got caught, it was the best thing to happen to him."
Acopan apologized yesterday to his former employers and to his family -- whom he described as "my backbone" -- and wept as he addressed them in the gallery.
He also asked the court for a chance at drug treatment.
Co-defendants Philip Puha and Gregory Jenks Jr. received 10-year terms earlier for their roles in the car thefts and were also prosecuted in U.S. District Court for federal firearm and drug offenses.
Undercover officers also purchased from the ring 100.8 grams of "ice" with an estimated street value of $32,550 and numerous firearms including a double-barrel, sawed-off shotgun that could be disassembled into three pieces, and a .45-caliber semiautomatic, along with 53 rounds of ammunition, Tanaka said.
Another lot attendant, Rex Mori, faces trial in Circuit Court next week.