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Tag: GM

The Abduction of GM Executive’s Son Shows Kidnapping Doesn’t Pay

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

Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

I was one of more than a dozen FBI agents assigned to surveillance on Braeburn Circle on Ann Arbor’s south side. After a few hours, agent Stan Lapekas, suggested we look in a Dumpster at the townhouse 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 only a few minutes, a car drove in and parked next to the gate. I peeked out and realized the driver was the man we were looking for — a suspect in the kidnapping of the son of a prominent General Motors executive.

In 1975, my first year assigned to the FBI’s Detroit Division, Michigan had four kidnappings. The one everyone remembers is Jimmy Hoffa, a kidnapping/murder that remains unsolved. The other three were kidnappings for ransom.

Ransom kidnappings still happen frequently in areas where law enforcement is weak or corrupt, including parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. They were once common in the U.S., too. In Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, Bryan Burrough 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. The two gangs were so successful at their respective specialties that Congress made bank robbery and kidnapping federal crimes, empowering the FBI to investigate them.


Bob Stempel

The 1932 statute that gives the FBI jurisdiction in kidnapping cases is called the “Lindbergh Law.” There was a proliferation of high-profile kidnappings in the U.S. during the 1930s, but none was more famous than the abduction of Charles Lindbergh Jr., the toddler son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, in May of that year.

Kidnapping for ransom, out of necessity, requires a victim who is of wealth or has some access to wealth. Not only were the Lindberghs rich, 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 payment, and the crime took several years to solve. Tracking the cash finally led authorities to carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann. He was convicted in 1935 and executed a year later.

The Lindbergh Law 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. And so it was that Stan Lapekas and I came to be hiding out by the Dumpster at University Townhouses in November 1975.

Four days earlier, 13-year-old Tim Stempel had been snatched in Bloomfield Township.

Tim was the son of Bob Stempel, a GM vice president on track to become CEO. Stempel received calls at home from the kidnappers, who wanted $150,000. They told him not to go to the police, but Stempel contacted GM security, who in turn contacted the police and the FBI.

Kidnapping a Rich Kid 

Tim had been kidnapped by Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams, who had decided that a moneymaking project would be to grab a rich family’s kid and hold him for ransom.

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

Then they spotted Tim Stempel skateboarding. Williams asked the teenager for directions to someone’s house. Tim said he didn’t know the person and started to walk away. Williams pulled a handgun and told him to get in the car.

The boy hit Williams with the skateboard, but Williams tackled him and struck him several times in the head. Williams and Wilson then blindfolded their victim and placed him in the backseat.

They drove to the Ann Arbor townhouse on Braeburn where Williams was staying and transferred the boy to the car’s trunk, where he would remain for 50-some hours. Williams then called Bob Stempel to announce that they had his son. He said he would call back later with instructions.

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. The paramount goal in any kidnapping investigation, obviously, is the safe return of the victim.

Stempel got additional calls Nov. 11 and 12. Ultimately he was instructed to go to an empty lot behind a roller skating rink in Inkster. 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 watch 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 pickup was not seen. Night vision equipment would have been helpful but was not yet available.

Within a few hours, Tim was released near the drop site.


Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams in court

An Apparel Store 

Initially there were no suspects, but because much of the activity had occurred in Inkster and nearby, neighborhood investigations were conducted, including a canvass of businesses and homes to determine if anyone had noticed relevant activity.

At an apparel store within a block of the roller rink, an agent learned 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.

The men were interviewed. They said they had driven two other men to the roller rink to pick up the cash. They assumed it contained drug money and accepted several thousand dollars for their trouble.

They identified one of the men as Darryl Wilson and said he lived in Ann Arbor. They didn’t know his address, but an investigation determined that he lived on Braeburn with a relative. A surveillance was set up, and the car used in the kidnapping was found.

That was where things stood when Stan Lapekas and I decided to inspect the Dumpster and Wilson drove up. As soon as he exited the car, Lapekas and I grabbed him and placed him in our backseat, with us sitting very close on each side.

We acted as if we already knew everything but wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. After we read him his rights, he almost immediately confessed and gave up his accomplice, Clinton Williams.

We hadn’t had Williams’ name. 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 Tim Stempel with a handgun and hit him several times. He said they had kept the boy in the car trunk for over two days. He also said he had called the Stempel home from a pay phone in Inkster.

At Wilson’s apartment, we found $137,000 of the ransom.

L. Brooks Patterson Gets Involved 

featured_screen_shot_2016-11-20_at_2-23-07_pm_23936

The case and subsequent trial became a bit of a media circus. There was no interstate aspect of the kidnapping that would trigger federal charges, so it was prosecuted in state court in Oakland County. County prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson handled the case. (He would later run for governor, and was just re-elected to his seventh term as the Oakland County executive.)

Because of the media attention, the trial was moved to Leelenau County, in the northwest Lower Peninsula. On the first day of trial, Patterson suspected that Wilson and Williams might be planning to enter a plea, so he put Tim Stempel on the stand.

While locked in the trunk of the car, Tim had carved his name on the inside of the trunk lid with a broken piece of a hacksaw blade he found in the trunk — an ingenious act. Patterson introduced the trunk lid as evidence. He then had me testify to get Williams’ confession on the record with all the damning admissions. The next day, Wilson and Williams entered guilty pleas.

We investigated other kidnappings for ransom in the Detroit Division during my 30-plus years there, but I’m not aware of any that succeeded. All the kidnappers were prosecuted.

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

In the latter years of my career, there were no kidnappings for ransom in Michigan. They also seem rare elsewhere in the country now. The business model is flawed: although the potential profits would seem to be high, the odds of actually getting  and keeping the money are extremely low.

Stejskal: The Losing Proposition of Kidnapping a GM Executives’ Son

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

Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

I was one of more than a dozen FBI agents assigned to surveillance on Braeburn Circle on Ann Arbor’s south side. After a few hours, agent Stan Lapekas, suggested we look in a Dumpster at the townhouse 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 only a few minutes, a car drove in and parked next to the gate. I peeked out and realized the driver was the man we were looking for — a suspect in the kidnapping of the son of a prominent General Motors executive.

Greg Stejskal

Greg Stejskal

In 1975, my first year assigned to the FBI’s Detroit Division, Michigan had four kidnappings. The one everyone remembers is Jimmy Hoffa, a kidnapping/murder that remains unsolved. The other three were kidnappings for ransom.

Ransom kidnappings still happen frequently in areas where law enforcement is weak or corrupt, including parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. They were once common in the U.S., too. In Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, Bryan Burrough 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. The two gangs were so successful at their respective specialties that Congress made bank robbery and kidnapping federal crimes, empowering the FBI to investigate them.


Bob Stempel

The 1932 statute that gives the FBI jurisdiction in kidnapping cases is called the “Lindbergh Law.” There was a proliferation of high-profile kidnappings in the U.S. during the 1930s, but none was more famous than the abduction of Charles Lindbergh Jr., the toddler son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, in May of that year.

Kidnapping for ransom, out of necessity, requires a victim who is of wealth or has some access to wealth. Not only were the Lindberghs rich, 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 payment, and the crime took several years to solve. Tracking the cash finally led authorities to carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann. He was convicted in 1935 and executed a year later.

The Lindbergh Law 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. And so it was that Stan Lapekas and I came to be hiding out by the Dumpster at University Townhouses in November 1975.

Four days earlier, 13-year-old Tim Stempel had been snatched in Bloomfield Township.

Tim was the son of Bob Stempel, a GM vice president on track to become CEO. Stempel received calls at home from the kidnappers, who wanted $150,000. They told him not to go to the police, but Stempel contacted GM security, who in turn contacted the police and the FBI.

Kidnapping a Rich Kid 

Tim had been kidnapped by Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams, who had decided that a moneymaking project would be to grab a rich family’s kid and hold him for ransom.

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

Then they spotted Tim Stempel skateboarding. Williams asked the teenager for directions to someone’s house. Tim said he didn’t know the person and started to walk away. Williams pulled a handgun and told him to get in the car.

The boy hit Williams with the skateboard, but Williams tackled him and struck him several times in the head. Williams and Wilson then blindfolded their victim and placed him in the backseat.

Read more »

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

profile

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.

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.

FBI: Couple Accused of Trying to Steal Technology Secrets from GM Shredded Documents

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

 A former General Motors engineer and her husband, both accused of trying to steal secrets from the domestic automaker and pass them on to a Chinese competitor, threw out bags of shredded documents at a suburb in Detroit, FBI agents said Tuesday, Reuters reports.

Trial in U.S. District Court in Detroit began Monday in the case of former GM employee Shanshan Du, 53, and her husband Yu Qin.

During testimony Tuesday, FBI agents described watching the defendants dump bags of shredded documents, Reuters reported.

Qin’s lawyer maintains the documents were not trade secrets.

The pair is accused of passing along confidential GM information on hybrid technology to China’s Chery Automobile.