The owner of a Chicago auto yard has been indicted on dozens of felony charges for an allegedly brazen scheme to steal eight school buses from a Far South Side bus company and shred them for scrap.
Sergio Quintero, 44, pleaded not guilty Friday to a 58-count indictment charging him with aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle, theft, criminal damage to property and illegal possession of auto titles.
Quintero, who has a previous theft conviction, was also charged with possession of a weapon by a felon after police found a 9mm handgun and ammunition in his office, according to court records.
The 40-foot-long buses, capable of seating 75 people, were stolen from the yard of Sunrise Transportation Company in the 10000 block of South Torrence Avenue in the overnight hours on March 8 and were not discovered missing until the morning, police said.
Chicago police were able to track the buses – each was equipped with GPS devices -- to Gonzalez Auto Parts and Dismantling, a scrap yard Quintero owns in the 3400 block of South Lawndale Avenue on Chicago’s West Side.
Quintero, of the 2500 block of South Drake Avenue, was found hours later hiding in the false ceiling of the yard's office, according to court records.
He was initially charged with possessing phony auto titles for cars found on the lot – offenses unrelated to the school bus theft.
In a court filing Friday, prosecutors asked Criminal Court Judge Joseph Kazmierski to increase bond for Quintero based on the new charges.
Investigators have uncovered text messages from Quintero’s cell phone “where the timing and content correspond to the theft of the school buses,” prosecutors wrote.
But Kazmierski allowed Quintero to remain free on his original bond of $25,000, court records show. His girlfriend posted the required 10 percent – or $2,500 – in cash on March 10, records show.
Quintero’s attorney, Dan Wolff, was not immediately available for comment.
Last week, Angel Bivanco, 19, was charged with eight counts of aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle for allegedly driving the suspects who stole the buses. No one else has been charged in the case as of Friday, according to court records.
Bivanco, of Calumet City, remained jailed on Friday on a $150,000 bond, according to jail records.
Three of the buses were torn apart using heavy equipment. The others were in varying stages of being disassembled. Shards of metal bearing the Sunrise title could be seen in piles in the yard.
"There was a pile of shredded school buses about two stories high," one police official said at the time. Engines and transmissions from the buses had already been cut in half, and the seats tossed in a "big pile of scrap," the official said.