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Unswerving reporting reveals how thieves drove new muscle cars off the lots of automakers, dealerships

New Chrysler vehicles are parked in storage lots near the Stellantis Detroit Assembly Complex in Detroit, Oct. 5, 2022. In recent years, thieves targeting primarily high-performance vehicles have driven new cars and trucks from automaker storage lots and dealerships across the Detroit area. In 2018, eight vehicles were driven from what was then Fiat Chrysler's Jefferson North plant. (AP Photo / Paul Sancya)

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Exclusive reporting by Detroit’s Corey Williams exposed how an Ohio-based theft ring used cloned key fobs to steal muscle cars and other high-powered vehicles in Michigan — even from an automaker’s factory lot. The true crime narrative was the result years of work by Williams, and it was a hit with readers.

Williams doggedly kept notes and records after a brazen 2018 car and truck theft at a Detroit auto plant, where thieves crashed a security gate to steal high-performance vehicles. He started keeping track of similar thefts at that auto plant and at dealerships in Oakland and Macomb counties north of Detroit. What was striking to him through all of it was the lack of detail coming from law enforcement, and the stonewalling he endured when he asked about the thefts, including queries to Detroit police, Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, Michigan State Police and the FBI.

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New Chrysler vehicles are parked in storage lots near the the Stellantis Detroit Assembly Complex in Detroit, Oct. 5, 2022. – AP Photo / Paul Sancya

Still, Williams kept accumulating information until he got a break in early 2022: A Google search for thefts with the word “Hellcat” surfaced a story in an online publication that mentioned the arrest of Ohio mail theft suspects, one of whom had other stolen property, including a vehicle with a Hellcat engine.

Williams obtained the criminal indictment, opening the door to the larger story of the muscle car thefts, and to law enforcement sources in the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department. A member of the auto theft squad said thieves were targeting “the fast ones” that can be valued at $100,000 and outrun police cruisers. WIlliams’ sources provided detailed information on how a specialized device that clones vehicles’ key fobs was used. He also learned of a dealership outside Detroit where thieves drove high-end vehicles out through a smashed glass wall; the manager provided details on the impact of the thefts and the steps the dealership has taken to prevent future thefts.

The story,which moved Sunday Oct. 16,became AP’s top U.S story of the weekend; it won play on numerous news sites and also picked up traction on Reddit and Facebook.

For determined and resourceful reporting,and a detective’s nose for an interesting crime yarn, Williams is AP’s Best of the Week— Second Winner.

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