Chop shop discovered in Merced County, one man arrested, half a dozen vehicles seized

A Merced County sheriff’s deputy discovered a suspected illegal chop shop in Delhi after a routine conversation with a man described as suspicious outside a local store., the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

Deputy Ignacio Pizano was patrolling around Liberty Market in Delhi on Friday when he saw a suspicious man next to a dirt bike in front of the store, according to a news release.

Pizano started talking to the man, identified as 36-year-old Delhi resident James Harry, who said the motorcycle was his, the release states. But Pizano ran the VIN number of the vehicle and discovered it was reported stolen.

Courtesy Merced County Sheriff's Office

Harry still claimed the bike was his and said he had paperwork at his home, according to the release. So Pizano and Deputy Mandilyn Ross went with Harry to his home in the 9900 block of Palm Avenue to see the documents.

But at the home, Ross saw another dirt bike at the side of the property and ran the VIN number, the release states. That vehicle also came back stolen. Ross also saw a forklift parked in the back yard that was similar to one that she took a stolen vehicle report on days prior.

Harry signed a search warrant waiver and Pizano and Ross found more stolen vehicles and “cut up vehicle parts,” according to the release.

Suspecting Harry’s home was operating as an illegal chop shop, the Merced County Detectives Bureau assisted in recovering seven stolen vehicles from the backyard, the release states. Also recovered were chainsaws, motorcycles, ATVs, tractors, grinders, welders and other items that may have been stolen.

Harry was arrested and booked into Merced County Jail on $250,000 bail on suspicion of possession of stolen property, being a felon in possession of firearms and operating an illegal chop shop. He was in custody Tuesday.

Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.