ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Sixteen people have been charged arrested in a multi-state car theft ring.
The suspects are accused of stealing luxury vehicles from both individuals and dealerships from Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. They then transported the vehicles to the Eastern District of Missouri after disabling tracking systems like OnStar.
The following people were arrested Tuesday:
Shahadu Sutton, 38, St. Louis;
Tiffany Sutton, 38, St. Louis;
Orlando Preston, 38, St. Louis;
William Smith, 48, Highland, Kan.;
Robert Reece, 40, St. Louis;
John Hicks, 30, St. Louis;
Reginald Davis, 30, Florissant, Mo.;
Steven Pirtle, 45, St. Louis;
Sheldon Mitchell, 42, Ballwin, Mo.;
Chester Wilson, 41, St. Louis;
Arvis Dunbar, 47, St. Louis;
Eugene Dunbar, 63, St. Louis;
Michael Smith, 40, Florissant, Mo.;
Terrelle Marion, 46, Florissant, Mo.;
Jermaine Gamble, 32, Custody; and
Joseph Pearson, 38, St. Louis area
The defendants are accused of making false statements on loan applications and submitting fraudulent earnings statements to get loans to purchase high-end vehicles. They then sold or disposed of the vehicles while the loan went into default.
Court documents state over 100 vehicles have been identified as part of the ring, but investigators believe many more may have been involved.
Charges for the suspects include bank fraud, mail fraud, and receipt of stolen motor vehicle. If convicted the suspects face between five and 30 years in prison and fines up to $1 million.
The victims in this case are car dealerships, mostly in the St. Louis area and insurance companies. According to the federal indictment 116 vehicles were involved, some from well known dealerships.
United State Attorney Richard Callahan explains the people charged would either steal cars or pretend to be real customers at dealerships.
"They used a lot of straw purchasers to go in and purchase new automobiles with false credit reports and W2 forms so as if they could make the payments on the cars when the individuals were never going to make any payments," says Callahan.
He says the group also pretended to wreck vehicles.
"False accidents and in turn created false repair bills and a lot of times they would then create these false mechanic liens, which would be more than the car was worth and that's how they would get title to the car," he says.
Sometimes the false accident reports would turn into false medical bills and insurance claims.
To continue the scheme, those charged created their own businesses to make them seem more legitimate.
"They had legitimate, quote legitimate store fronts, the towing business things you would associate with the new and used car business," he says.
Callahan explains that's how they got caught. After nearly five years of scheming, Callahan says about a year and a half ago a regular customer came into the so-called "repair shop" and was charged a ridiculous amount then that customer contacted police.
"They actually dealt with a car owner face to face and that proved their undoing for the last time," he says. "They got careless."