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Lax SD Registration Laws Help National Crime Ring Steal 43 Vehicles

Hey, Sleepy Al! Here’s an idea for problem-solving legislation: maybe you could propose a bill to tighten up our motor vehicle registration laws so South Dakota can stop aiding and abetting car thieves:

A ring of savvy car thieves in New York exploited a bureaucratic weakness by registering many of their ripped-off Lamborghinis and Range Rovers in South Dakota, a state that lets people register out-of-state vehicles by mail and wasn’t thoroughly checking to see if they were stolen, the FBI said.

…In all, the group stole about $3.1 million worth of vehicles, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. The heists included the theft of five 2017 Nissan Titan pickups taken from a dealership in Tallahassee, Florida, and a Lamborghini Huracan stolen in Miami, according to court documents.

…According to the FBI, [alleged ringleader Marvin] Williams registered 43 vehicles with the South Dakota Division of Motor Vehicles using false documentation. At least 10 of those vehicles had been reported stolen, authorities said [Jim Mustian, “Feds: 60 Luxury Vehicles Were Stolen by National Theft Ring. 43 Were Registered in South Dakota,” Rapid City Journal, updated 2018.11.10].

FBI Special Agent Kevin M. Gonyo says in the official complaint to the Southern District Court of New York that South Dakota is uniquely helpful to thieves wanting to launder their vehicular booty:

I have reviewed records obtained from the SDDMV, which show that MARVIN WILLIAMS, the defendant, who resides in Connecticut, has registered approximately forty-three vehicles in South Dakota, with the SDDMV, on behalf of himself and others, and has submitted false documentation, including false titles with invalid VINs, to the SDDMV to do so. In contrast to other states, prior to this investigation the SDDMV conducted fewer or no checks to confirm authenticity of VINs and lawful ownership in connection with registration of vehicles [FBI Special Agent Kevin M. Gonyo, Complaint, USA v. Marvin Williams et al., U.S. Southern District Court of New York, 2018.11.06, p. 6].

Searching Vehicle Identification Numbers is trivially easy: you can do it from your home computer through multiple websites. That’s what Special Agent Gonyo did:

Based on my review of SDDMV records, compared with other records, inculding records from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”) database, I have found that at least ten of the vehicles MARVIN WILLIAMS, the defendant, registered through the SDDMV were reported stolen. In addition, based on searches conducted in VIN Check, a publically available VIN databse, and information provided from vehicle manufacturers, including Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automative, I know that at least approximately twenty of the vehicles that MARVIN WILLIAMS, the defendant, registered through the SDDMV were registered with invalid VIN numbers [Gonyo, 2018.11.06, p. 6].

The press release from U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman thanks the South Dakota Division of Motor Vehicles and the South Dakota Lake County Treasurer’s Office for their assistance in the investigation. Perhaps DMV boss-boss and Revenue Secretary Andy Gerlach and Lake County treasurer Debra Walburg will be able to drop in on some Legislative hearings this winter and tell legislators what went wrong here, what statutes we could revise, and what resources the state could provide to help us crack down on motor vehicle theft.

Update 14:28 CST: Hat tip to Grandma (a really smart lady in the comment section) for noticing the Lake County Sheriff‘s praise on Facebook for the “girls” in the treasurer’s office whose “quick action” helped nail this East Coast auto theft ring:

Lake County Sheriff's Office, Facebook post, 2018.11.09.
Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Facebook post, 2018.11.09.


  1. mike from iowa 2018-11-10 08:49

    Wait a minute. The name of the game for car theft is PROFIT and if burdensome governmental regs block maximum profits for car thieves, then they should be done away with. Isn’t the the reason wingnuts hate regs?

    Maybe Drumpf will give the state a Medal of Honor or something.

  2. Dana P 2018-11-10 09:45

    Governor elect-Noem will get right on this —– as soon as she spends a ton of time signing the bathroom police bill

  3. Grandma 2018-11-10 10:52

    Read the Lake County Sheriff office on facebook. There was an article about this county catching some of the stolen vehicle things in their office. Interesting.

  4. Loren 2018-11-10 11:38

    Just think of it as SD attracting more “business opportunities. Jobs…jobs…jobs, right?

  5. Rorschach 2018-11-10 11:50

    Why was the Lake County treasurer involved? Because this was set up using Lake County PO box service like out-of-state RVers use. This Connecticut fraudster was probably voting in Lake County too.

  6. Debbo 2018-11-10 14:41

    Well SD ain’t #1 in corruption fer nuthin’. Thanks, SDGOP.

  7. T 2018-11-10 19:29

    “With the assistants of the girls here”
    Can’t get anymore professional than that

  8. John 2018-11-10 20:11

    Let’s get real here. SD has some bureaucrats who are competent. A few who are very competent. And scores who’s managers and the bureaucrats need be shown the door. There is no excuse for South Dakota being the car theft title capitol of America.
    Yet, we still have scores of re-elected politicians pretending in public forums, willfully blind, that SD state government does not have a corruption problem.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-12 05:28

    I wondered about the RV connection, Ror. The RV mailbox shop closed at the end of July. Some of the thefts happened before that date, some after. I get no sense from the FBI agent’s complaint that these thieves had mail or voting on their minds; they just needed to get their fake license plates.

    To John’s point, it sounds like the Lake County Treasurer’s Office includes some of those competent bureaucrats who are willing to do some digging when something suspicious pops up. Of course, this suspicious behavior came from out-of-staters with no apparent connection to the state, so the bureaucrats involved didn’t have to worry about job repercussions for investigating one of our own.

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