WILLARD - Authorities seized 31 vehicles, 200 car titles and about $24,000 in cash when using two search warrants simultaneously Wednesday afternoon at two Willard addresses.
Huron County Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Dane Howard said the multi-jurisdictional investigation involves tampering with records and vehicle ownership. The detective said the suspects bought vehicles under a company name and then sold them, using people's names without their consent, to illegal aliens.
"There was no arrest made at this point," Howard added. "We seized a huge amount of records dozens and dozens of car titles."
Police used four towing companies to move the vehicles to the impound lots at the sheriff's office and Willard Police Department. Some of the vehicles came from other states. Not all of them had been stolen.
"Eight of them were from Akron," Sheriff's Capt. Bob McLaughlin said.
Willard and Norwalk officers, several deputies and investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) and the state taxation department were involved in executing the search warrants about 3 p.m. at 4114 Townline Road 12 and 24 Motson St.
McLaughlin said there potentially are three suspects, one or two of whom are from Mansfield. None of them are being named because they haven't been charged or arrested.
The BMV had been receiving information from Willard Police Detective Sgt. Rick Sexton "on and off for a number of years" about one of the suspects moving vehicles from Ohio to Mexico, McLaughlin said.
"He'd buy them here and sell them in Mexico. They're worth more down there," he explained. "According to (the) BMV, he was jumping titles."
McLaughlin said the suspect sold vehicles without titles and didn't pay state taxes on those vehicles.
The BMV also had information that the same man would buy vehicles through a Mansfield dealership, take them to Willard and then transport them en masse to Mexico, he continued. McLaughlin said individuals from the dealership ultimately could be prosecuted or used as witnesses, but that would be determined by the BMV or Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler.
Officers will be meeting with investigators from the BMV and state taxation department to process the evidence. After that process is completed, the case will be turned over to Leffler's office for the consideration of charges.
"It will be some time before it goes to the prosecutor's office," McLaughlin said.
He and Howard credited the work of Norwalk Police Officer Seth Fry in getting the investigation moving quickly. McLaughlin described Fry as inquisitive when making traffic stops and "knowledgeable about what's going on in the county with certain crimes." Fry has been a full-time officer since 2004.
"He developed the original lead on this," Chief Kevin Cashen said. He added that Fry was assigned to work with other authorities "due to the size of the crimes and how it touched the city of Norwalk."
In mid-August, Fry learned of a Florida victim who hadn't bought a vehicle that was titled in his name, Howard said. The detective mentioned "other indicators" that sent red flags up to investigators, but he declined to elaborate.
Howard hopes to have the investigation wrapped up by next week.