A man recently pleaded not guilty to charges that he took part in an auto theft ring that targeted Spanish-speaking car owners in the San Diego area.

According to prosecutors, the ring posted job listings on social media sites, claiming they were seeking people to legally transport cash from the border area to other parts of California. People who responded to the ad were instructed to drive to a location in southern San Diego County. Once they arrived, members of the ring allegedly took the cars, sometimes at gunpoint, and drove them across the border into Mexico. Some of the cars were later returned to the United States and sold. At least 17 car owners were targeted, police said.

The man who pleaded not guilty was one of several people prosecutors claim took part in the scheme. Prosecutors claim he took part in at least eight of the thefts, and brandished a firearm in some of the incidents. Altogether, he was charged with 29 separate felonies If convicted, the 40-year-old man could face more than 50 years in prison.

Under California law, a car theft charge by itself generally carries a penalty of between 16 months and three years in prison. However, the penalties increase with every new charge. Aggravating factors, such as the use of a firearm in a theft, can further increase the charges.

It’s important to remember that everyone who is accused of a crime deserves a defense. The burden is on the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. A good criminal defense lawyer can advise the accused on their rights and legal options to protect themselves, their freedom and their future.