Auto theft ring spans from Ford factory to Phoenix
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Phoenix police are investigating an auto theft ring that saw brand new Ford pickup trucks and SUVs stolen from a factory lot in Michigan, ending up for sale in auto dealer showrooms across the Valley. It’s a scheme that appears to have taken advantage of a weakness in the government computer system used to check whether titles from out of state are clean or stolen.
According to police reports and interviews conducted with parties involved in the case and investigations, the vehicles were stolen from holding lots outside factories in Michigan late last year. At least two dozen of them were driven to Arizona. At some point along the way, the vehicles’ VIN numbers were added to blank Georgia auto titles. Those titles were among 12,000 that were stolen in 2007. Some vehicles could be tracked down by police in the Detroit metro area before they crossed state lines. One such case included a Michigan State Police helicopter following suspected stolen vehicles in July 2022.
But the vehicles that make it out of Michigan and reach Arizona were registered and given clean Arizona titles, then sold to used car dealers. “Over the course of about 60 days, we bought four Ford F150s from individuals off the street - with clear title, valid driver’s licenses, clean Carfax reports. Everything checked out,” said Addison Brown, who is the general manager of Scottsdale’s Cascio Motors. Brown says her dealership spent $65,000 on each vehicle, believing they were legitimate because they had clean Arizona titles.
According to a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Division, a big part of the problem is that Ford did not report the vehicles as stolen for weeks or even months. “Unfortunately, the vehicles were not noticed missing or stolen until they were retitled here in Arizona,” said Bill Lamoreaux from MVD.
Lamoreaux said if the vehicle VIN numbers had been reported stolen sooner, the state system would have flagged the trucks. “The system would have alerted ADOT, and they would not have been titled,” said Lamoreaux.
But that did not happen, and two days before Christmas, Brown says Phoenix police showed up at her showroom. “We were building Christmas presents for the kids. And all of a sudden, there were badges and guns running through the front door. They were looking for stolen Ford F150s,” said Brown.
She initially believed they had the wrong address. She says the police acted like she and her company were the bad guys. “We’ve been threatened to be arrested,” she said.
Phoenix police say the investigation is ongoing. They have made no arrests in the case. But a lawsuit filed by Premier Title and Registration, which titled some of the stolen vehicles, names a man named Donald Eugene Reed III as the “leader of the criminal syndicate,” or the ringleader.
Reed told Arizona’s Family Investigates that he is innocent of any fault in the case. He said he learned of the vehicles from someone he met at a restaurant and believed they were legitimate.
But Reed has a criminal record, including fraud, identity theft, and filing fraudulent tax returns. He told Arizona’s Family Investigates that he paid his debt and has not broken the law since his last conviction.
Meantime, car buyers and dealers across the Valley are out of money and vehicles. Police have confiscated the Fords, and Cascio Motors’ business is in limbo.
“It’s not just the $300,000. It’s all of the other damage. Because we have sold stolen cars, we are considered uninsurable,” said Brown. She says her company is no longer allowed at auto auctions, and they lost their line of credit. “I’m a victim. However, nobody’s treating me like a victim,” said Brown.
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