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Tag: General Motors

Stejskal: An Intriguing Tale of a GM Worker Who Got Busted Selling Test Cars from Proving Grounds

profile

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

Jack Clingingsmith had what any car guy would consider a dream job. He was the executive in charge of testing for Buick at the General Motors proving grounds.

GM’s Milford, Michigan proving ground, when it opened in 1924, was the auto industry’s first dedicated testing facility. Today the sprawling 400 acre complex has over 100 buildings and about 132 miles (212 km) of roads. Those roads replicate all types of conditions found on streets and highways throughout North America – from dirt tracks to four lane interstate highways. There are also specialty surfaces to test traction, anti-skid and brake technology.

In 1984 despite Clingingsmith’s dream job, he had serious personal financial problems.

Part of Clingingsmith’s duties was to dispose of test cars after they were no longer of use. Some of these cars were one-of-a-kind prototypes and some had experimental parts using developing technology. For obvious reasons, these cars were not to be sold or driven by unauthorized people. Consequently, the cars were to be destroyed by having them crushed when they were no longer needed for testing.

A crushed car at that time was worth about $90 as scrap metal. However, if the cars were sold for parts, they could bring $1-2,000 each. Clingingsmith had an idea as to how to alleviate his financial problems. He would sell the cars for parts rather than having them crushed. GM wouldn’t know, and he would keep the difference.

In order to do this, he would need to obtain phony documentation to show the cars had been crushed. Part of the disposal process involved having the cars vehicle identification number (VIN) plates removed. Clingingsmith would turn in the VIN plates and advise GM and the Michigan Secretary of State that the cars were destroyed.

Greg Stejskal

Greg Stejskal

So that Clingingsmith didn’t have to deal with the scrap/auto parts dealer directly, he recruited an associate, Ingo Nicolay, to act as a middleman. Nicolay was the general manager of Johnson Motors, a Pontiac dealership in Holly, Michigan. Clingingsmith knew Nicolay because Johnson Motors had for years done body work on cars GM maintained for their executives.

Nicolay agreed to participate in the scam and in turn recruited Donald Holloway, the owner of Holloway Auto Parts in Flint, a city just north of Holly and once the home of Buick. Holloway was more than willing to buy low mileage, well maintained used cars to be used for auto parts. He was also willing to provide fake bills of sale showing the cars had been crushed.

Between November, 1984 and December, 1985, 14 test cars (13 Buicks and one Oldsmobile) were reported by Clingingsmith to have been destroyed. Actually they had been sold to Holloway for parts.

The conspiracy seemed to be going well, and all the conspirators were happy, but one of them was especially happy.

Even A Better Idea

Holloway upon taking delivery of these pristine used cars had an epiphany – why disassemble these cars to sell for parts when they could be sold whole. These cars hadn’t been reported stolen; in fact, there was no record they even existed. But it probably wouldn’t be wise to sell them locally.

Holloway had done business with a dealership, Fann’s Auto Sales, in Manchester, Tennessee. Holloway told the people at Fann’s that he had a source for “assembled” GM cars. Assembled cars were cars that were built from parts of two or more cars. (This was usually as a result of the cars having been extensively damaged in an accident.) For that reason the VIN plates had been removed. There was a provision under Tennessee law that allowed for assembled cars to be registered and assigned a new VIN.

Read more »

Lengel: Despite All the Dead Motorists, GM Gets to Pay Off Justice Department

handshakeBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

DETROIT — Imagine if you will, if former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was able to pay the Justice Department hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of going to prison for 28 years. Imagine if Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, accused of having a hand in 19 murders, was able to pay a couple million dollars to the Justice Department instead of serving life in prison.  Imagine if Dr. Farid Fata, the Detroit area oncologist who administered chemotherapy to patients who didn’t even have cancer, paid a $10 million fine instead of getting a 45-year sentence.

And then imagine, if you will,  if General Motors was able to pay $900 million to the Justice Department in lieu of having some of its employees go to prison for sweeping under the rug a gravely serious problem with faulty ignitions that resulted in well over 100 deaths.

Call it murder.  Call it negligent homicide. Call it manslaughter.

Call it a bloody injustice. Call it a shame that General Motors is able to pay off the Justice Department to make a criminal case go away.  Reuters reported Wednesday that GM has agreed to pay about $900 million in fines and sign a deferred-prosecution agreement to end a federal investigation into its handling of problems.

The Justice Department will charge the company, not any individuals, with criminally hiding the defect from regulators and in the process defrauding consumers. So what.

The Justice Department has historically failed to address some corporate crimes appropriately by letting some folks off without prison time. The message is clear in cases like this: “Just give us money and we’ll make it go away.” GM could have recalled these dangerous cars with faulty ignitions 10 years ago, but nobody made them do it, so they didn’t.  Lives could have been saved.

Sure, GM’s CEO Mary T. Barra can take some credit for cleaning house and getting rid of those responsible. Now, those folks have lawyered up and shut their yaps.

The word is that the Justice Department didn’t have enough incriminating documents or a real whistleblower to put together a solid criminal case against individuals.

But that’s no reason not to pursue a criminal investigation. If the feds could get N.Y. Underboss Salvatore “Sammy The Bull” Gravano to flip and rat out his boss, John Gotti, they could certainly have worked the case more and gotten some white collar workers to flip on co-workers.

Again, Mary Barra and GM should get some credit for cooperating with a federal investigation and offering payouts to victims, but that shouldn’t mean a free pass for those who could have acted responsibly and saved lives.

The $900 million is certainly a lot of money to you and I. But for GM, that’s a quarterly earning. GM can absorb that.

We rely on the automakers to produce a safe product, one that many of us rely on nearly everyday of our adult lives.  We don’t expect the automakers to be perfect and always produce a flawless product.

But we do expect them to respond appropriately, and in a timely manner, when they realize a flaw in their product could kill us.

Unfortunately, the Justice Department has once again sent a message to the automakers that cover ups are OK, so long as you have the money to pay for them when you get caught.

2 Ex-UAW Officials Get Prison Time for Extorting General Motors

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

DETROIT — So much for above the board negotiations.

Two ex-United Auto Workers officials were sentenced to prison Tuesday in federal court in Detroit for conspiring to extort General Motors during a strike in 1997 at the Pontiac Truck Plant.

Donny Douglas, 70, of Holly, Mich., a former UAW International Servicing Representative was sentenced to 18 months in prison and and Jay Campbell, 70, of Davisburg, Mich., a former UAW Local 594 Chairman, was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison. They were convicted in 2006.

Authorities said the two were convicted of conspiring to commit extortion by threatening to extend the 1997 strike at the Pontiac Truck Plant by UAW Local 594 unless General Motors hired two unqualified, non-UAW members who were family members or friends of the defendants as skilled tradesmen.

Authorities said that GM, concerned about the continued financial loss of a strike, hired Campbell’s son and a former UAW Local 594 President’s son-in-law as journeymen even though neither man was a member of the UAW, worked for General Motors, or was qualified for the position.

Kidnapping For Ransom: Bad Business Model

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It was February, 1980 in Detroit.

I was assigned to the FBI surveillance squad (with apologies to Jack Webb and his introductions to “Dragnet”). It was very cold in the back of the van. We hadn’t yet installed a heater that would work when the van wasn’t running.

I had been driven to a spot where I could observe the ransom drop site from the small one-way window in the back of panel van. The driver had parked the van and left. He was picked up a few blocks away by one of the other surveillance cars. If anyone was watching, they would think the van was empty.

Kidnappings. It was one of many I would work in my career as an FBI agent. As I would witness, time and again, it was a lousy way for criminals to make money. Particularly as technology improved, it became clear: The business model simply didn’t work. And I thought it was worth recounting why.

In this 1980 case, my job was to watch the ransom package, which had been placed between the rear wall of a party store and a dumpster. The package contained $50,000. The “party store” (that’s what they call convenience stores in Detroit) was at the corner of Fenkell and Robeson on Detroit’s northwest side.

I had two HTs (hand held radios) with me in the van. One was tuned to the surveillance frequency. The other was tuned to the frequency of a transmitter in the ransom package. The transmitter broadcast a rhythmic tone that would speed up if the package was moved- pretty primitive by today’s technology.

The whole thing had started when Jacqueline Hempstead, the manager of a Detroit bank branch, learned that her son, Hessley, age 8, had been kidnapped on his way to school. She was called by the kidnappers and received instructions and a ransom demand. Mrs. Hempstead contacted her bank’s security officer, who alerted the Detroit Police Department (DPD) and the FBI.

It was decided that Mrs. Hempstead would follow the kidnappers’ instructions and comply with the ransom demand. A package with $50,000 and the aforementioned transmitter was prepared.

The FBI had been positioned in a parameter around the drop site. I had been driven to a spot near the drop site before the delivery. There I could observe the delivery and provide protection to Mrs. Hempstead if necessary.

Mrs. Hempstead delivered the package without any problems. We had agents in the vicinity of the drop, but not close enough to observe the package or spook someone wanting to make a pick-up.

After I had been watching for several hours, I heard an ominous sound, a garbage truck approaching. The truck got positioned and lifted the dumpster next to the ransom package. For a moment I thought what a novel way to retrieve a ransom. But when the dumpster was replaced, it was set on the top of the package. The transmitter screeched then seemed to moan before dying completely. The package was torn open with the stacks of bills clearly visible.

I kept my vigil, but we were concerned that a passerby might see the cash. After about an hour with no apparent effort by the kidnappers to collect the ransom, we had Mrs. Hempstead retrieve the package.

In the meantime, young Hessley, who had been left unsupervised by the kidnappers at a house on Detroit’s eastside, was able to break free and call his home. Agents that were posted at the Hempstead home told him to get out of the house and go to a neighbor’s house.

He went to the neighbors and then called again. He was picked up by FBI agents and returned home. The kidnappers were identified initially from their connection to the house where Hessley was held. They were successfully prosecuted. The kidnapping was short-circuited, but the victim was returned safe and law enforcement responded quickly and performed well.

In 1975, my first year assigned to Detroit Division (Michigan), there were four kidnappings in Michigan, three of which were classic kidnappings for ransom. The other was Jimmy Hoffa, a kidnapping/murder.

It was an exciting first year on the job for me, but this was probably an inordinate number of ransom kidnappings for anywhere, including Detroit.

Before I arrived, in much earlier times, it seemed as if criminals had had far better luck with kidnapping. In Bryan Burroughs’ book, Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI 1933-34, Burroughs writes that for some of the notorious gangs of the era, kidnapping was the crime of choice. John Dillinger’s gang specialized in bank robbery, but the Barker/Karpis gang preferred kidnapping.

It was the gangs’ success in their respective specialty crimes that resulted in making them Federal Crimes, and gave birth to the FBI. (Machine Gun Kelly, a member of the Barker gang, is credited with coining the “G-man” moniker for FBI agents when he was arrested by the FBI.) The FBI learned from those early experiences.

michigan map

Kidnapping for ransom, out of necessity, requires a victim who is of wealth or has some access to wealth (part of the business model). Consequently, the victim will be or is often related, in some way, to a high-profile person that can be expected to have the wherewithal and desire to pay a ransom.

The Federal statute that gives the FBI jurisdiction in kidnapping cases is called the “Lindbergh law”, which arose from the highly publicized kidnapping of Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s son by Bruno Richard Hauptmann and the proliferation of high profile kidnappings elsewhere in the U.S. The Lindberghs were wealthy, but Charles may have been the most famous and beloved person in America at the time.

The Lindbergh baby was found dead after a ransom was paid. It was several years before the case was solved. The Federal kidnapping statute relies on a presumption that any kidnapping involves interstate commerce. It is a rebuttable presumption, but allows the FBI to investigate a kidnapping without having to first establish some interstate aspect.

One such case came with the kidnapping in Michigan on Nov. 10, 1975. A young man, Timothy Stempel, 13, was kidnapped in Bloomfield Township, an affluent suburb north of Detroit.

Timothy’s father was Robert Stempel, a high ranking executive with General Motors (later Robert Stempel would become CEO of GM). Mr. Stempel received a series of phone calls at his home from the kidnappers, and he was told they wanted $150,000 for Timothy’s return. Stempel contacted GM security, who in turn contacted the police and FBI.

Timothy had been kidnapped by two men, Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams, who had decided that a good money making project would be to kidnap a rich kid and hold him for ransom.

The Stempel family/free press

The Stempel family/free press

They had no specific victim in mind when they drove to the high-income neighborhood of Bloomfield Township. They passed on a few potential victims for various reasons; playing too close to a house, too young.

Then they spotted Timothy. He was skateboarding. Williams asked Timothy for directions to a person’s house. Timothy said he didn’t know the person and started to walk away. Williams pulled a handgun and told Timothy to get in the car. Timothy hit Williams with the skateboard, but Williams tackled him and struck him several times in the head. Williams and Wilson blindfolded Timothy and placed him in the backseat of the car.

They drove to Wilson’s apartment on the south side of Ann Arbor and transferred Timothy to the trunk of the car where he would remain for the next 50 some hours. Williams then called Robert Stempel and told him they had his son, and he would call back with instructions. Lastly Williams told Stempel: Don’t tell the police.

The police and FBI committed hundreds of officers and agents to the investigation. It was designated a “special” by FBI headquarters; all hands on deck. But it had to be done in such a way as to not alert the kidnappers that police were involved. The paramount goal in any kidnapping investigation is the safe return of the victim.

Robert Stempel received subsequent telephone calls on Nov. 11 and again on the next day. Ultimately, he was instructed to go to an empty lot behind a roller skating rink in Inkster, a working class suburb west of Detroit. He was to leave the money there, and he would be contacted about his son’s release.

The evening of the “drop,” it was pouring rain. Efforts were made to surveil the ransom package, but because of the location and the weather, it was impossible without taking the chance of alerting the kidnappers.

The package was retrieved, but whoever made the pick-up was not seen. (Night vision equipment would have been helpful, but was not yet available.)

Within a few hours, Timothy was released by the kidnappers not far from the drop site. Initially there were no suspects, but because much of the activity had occurred in Inkster and nearby, “neighborhood” investigations were conducted that included a canvass of businesses and homes to determine if anyone had seen any relevant activity. At an apparel store, within a block of the roller rink drop site, an agent found that two men had spent several hundred dollars in cash for clothes.

The serial numbers on the cash matched the numbers recorded from some of the ransom money, and the men who bought the clothes were identified. This is similar to how Bruno Richard Hauptmann was initially identified as the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. He had spent some of the ransom money, a gold certificate, at a gas station. The station attendant made a note of Hauptmann’s car license number. One of the reasons we now canvass neighborhoods.

The sartorial aspiring men were interviewed, and they told how they had agreed to drive two men to the roller rink on the night of Nov. 12 to retrieve a package containing money. The men assumed it was drug money and accepted several thousand dollars for their trouble.

The men identified Darryl Wilson and said he lived in Ann Arbor, but didn’t know his address or the other man’s name.

The investigation determined that Wilson lived in an apartment on Ann Arbor’s south side with a relative. A surveillance was set up at the apartment complex, and the car used in the kidnapping was found at the complex.

Timothy Stempel, while locked in the trunk of the car, had carved his name on the inside of the trunk lid with a broken piece of a hacksaw blade he found in the trunk- pretty ingenious.

I was assigned to the surveillance. After a few hours, one of the other agents, Stan Lapekas, suggested we take a look in a dumpster at the apartment complex for possible evidence. The dumpster was inside a wood fence enclosure in the parking lot, and we couldn’t be seen from the outside.

After we had been in the enclosure for only a few minutes, a car drove in and parked right next to the enclosure gate. I peeked out and realized the driver was the subject, Darryl Wilson. As soon as he exited the car, Lapekas and I grabbed him and  placed him in the backseat of our car, with us sitting very close on either side of him.

We acted as if we already knew everything, but wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. After giving him his rights, he almost immediately confessed and gave up his accomplice, Clinton Williams. We hadn’t had Williams’ name until Wilson told us. Wilson also told us where Williams lived. I got several other agents and drove to Williams’ home and arrested him.

Williams also confessed. He told us he had threatened Timothy Stempel with a handgun and hit him several times. He said they had kept Timothy in the trunk of a car for over two days. He also said he had made the phone calls to Timothy’s dad from a pay phone in Inkster. (With the existing technology, we hadn’t been able to trace the calls.)

The subsequent search of Wilson’s apartment resulted in the recovery of $137,000 of the ransom money.

The case and subsequent trial became a bit of a media circus. There was no interstate aspect of the kidnapping for it to be charged federally so it was prosecuted in State Court. The venue was Oakland County as Bloomfield Twp., where the kidnapping occurred. The high profile Oakland County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson, who would later run for Governor, was the prosecutor. (He is presently the Oakland County Executive.)

Because of the media attention, the trial was moved from Oakland to Leland County, in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. On the first day of trial, Patterson suspected that Wilson and Williams might be planning to enter a plea. Patterson put Timothy Stempel on the stand and introduced the trunk lid. He then had me testify out of order to get Williams’ confession on the record with all the damning admissions.

On the beginning of the 2nd day of trial, Wilson and Williams entered guilty pleas with no plea bargain.

There were several other kidnappings for ransom in the Detroit Division during my 30+ years there, but I’m not aware of any that were successful.

All the kidnappers were identified and prosecuted. In two instances although a ransom was demanded and paid, the victims were murdered. In both those cases, the kidnappers never had any intention of releasing the victims alive.

The business model for kidnapping for ransom is flawed. It is a very high-risk crime.

In some parts of the world kidnappings are done with the collusion of the police or at least their indifference, thus, lowering the risk factor. The victim has to fit a profile, and it is very difficult to successfully collect a ransom- probably more so today than in the technology challenged period of the early years of my career.

Although the potential profit would seem to be high, the odds of actually getting and keeping it are extremely low.

In the latter years of my career, there were no kidnappings for ransom in Michigan. They also seem to be rare elsewhere in the country. I doubt that kidnapping for ransom is extinct in the US, but it would seem to be on the endangered list.