(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department has charged 21 people in a multi-state car theft conspiracy that involved well over 100 vehicles.
The crooks employed a variety of financial schemes to drive cars off of dealer lots, including phony loan applications, fakes titles from an Indian nation and bogus repair shop liens.
Since 2008, the defendants allegedly stole luxury cars, SUVs and pickup trucks from individuals and car dealerships in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, which were transported to the Eastern District of Missouri.
In the 74-page indictment, 126 cars that were involved in the criminal activity are listed along with their year, make, model and vehicle identification numbers. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office said investigators believe many more vehicles were involved.
The types of cars included the Land Rover Discovery, Cadillac Escalade, BMW X5, Infinity G35, and Mercedes S550, among others.
The ring used several schemes to steal cars, including making false statements on loan applications to buy high-end cars, then selling or disposing of the cars while the loan defaulted.
Some of the defendants disabled tracking systems — such as Onstar — on the stolen vehicles so that they couldn’t be traced by law enforcement.
In another scheme, the group used fake titles from a Native American jurisdiction, the Osage Nation next to Osage County in Oklahoma.
In addition, after buying some of the vehicles from car dealerships, the buyers filed for bankruptcy to protect themselves from creditors.
The Justice Department identified eight businesses that were used in the schemes under the guise of towing, storage or repair shops.
One business, owned by Shahadu Sutton, received stolen cars and created false mechanic lien titles on the vehicles or falsely obtained duplicate titles on the cars. Sutton recruited and assisted straw purchasers to buy cars from dealerships with “loans from financial institutions with no intention of fulfilling the loan obligations,” the indictment read.
They also sold some of the cars to people not aware of the thefts.
Sutton staged accidents and collected insurance proceeds after filing false claims of loss, the Justice Department indictment reads.
His wife, Tiffany, allegedly notarized false title applications, lien releases, and mechanic lien documents.
The Suttons and their public defender could not be reached for comment.
Sixteen men and women, ages 30 to 63, were arrested on charges that included conspiracy, bank fraud, mail fraud and receipt of stolen motor vehicles.
The penalties for the charges range from five to 30 years in prison and may include fines of up to $1 million, if they are convicted.
The case is the largest car-theft ring prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Missouri.
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