Michigan State Trooper Charged With Embezzlement in Apparent Title Washing Scheme

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

In Michigan, you can’t get a car with a salvage title on the road legally without first having it inspected by a state certified salvage vehicle inspector, typically a specially trained police officer. The officer inspects the car for safety and checks the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) to make sure the VIN hasn’t been reported as stolen. The car’s owner pays a $100 cash fee to be forwarded to the state government, the inspector signs off on the forms, and the state issues a new, clean title.

That is unless Seth Swanson was your inspector, allegedly.

Former Michigan State Police trooper, Swanson, 31 of Royal Oak, has been charged by the state attorney general with felony counts of embezzlement and forgery for pocketing over $170,000 in fees in what appears, based on the large number of cars involved, to have been an organized title washing scheme.

From August 2014 till the end of 2015, the state attorney general alleges Swanson kept the fees from 1,701 inspections he certified. He’s also alleged to have falsely certified that he checked to make sure the cars were not listed as stolen on LEIN. Following an investigation, Michigan State Police suspended Swanson without pay last February. He resigned from the force earlier last week.

A state trooper since 2009, Swanson was regarded as a hero for his actions resuscitating and saving a 10-year-old child involved in a multiple fatality chain reaction crash on I-75 caused by a snow storm in 2013.

Prosecutors have not released many details, but — reading between the lines — this may have involved an organized car theft ring. The number of titles involved works out to 100 cars a month and it seems to me such a large number of cars means Swanson was either working with organized criminals or was known as the go-to guy for independent car thieves.

Swanson has also only been charged with a single count of embezzlement by a public official and a single count of uttering and publishing (i.e. forgery). Each individual fee he stole and each certification he signed are separately chargeable felonies, so he could have been and still be charged with over 3,400 crimes.

The story broke after the Michigan attorney general issued a press release, not because Swanson showed up on a police blotter or court docket. That seems unusual to me. Combine that with the fact that he’s only been charged with two crimes, he’s waived his preliminary hearing and no further court dates are set makes me believe a plea bargain is in the works and Swanson will likely testify against others involved in the scheme.

TTAC has asked the Attorney General’s office if they expect other indictments, but we didn’t receive a response by the time of publication.

The state police are working with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to identify the vehicles affected, contact the owners to arrange for new inspections, ensure they are safe to drive and have not been stolen.

If Swanson indeed worked with professional car thieves, I presume not all the registered owners will readily cooperate.

[Image: Joe Ross/ Flickr, Michigan State Police]

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Nov 01, 2016

    I have a hard time believing that this was done with locally stolen cars, unless the state's system is that messed up, or if he was putting a different VIN on the paper work and then getting lucky that the car with that VIN was not registered in his state. The computer should spit out that there is a duplicate or a new title issued on a car that is shown as stolen and not recovered. In general though the guy is an idiot. The way to do this and not get caught is to charge the person the $100 for the paper work that goes to the state as normal and $100 for a "special handling fee" for doctoring the paper work to hide that it is stolen.

    • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Nov 01, 2016

      Agreed, the guy is a dolt, stupidly brazen. To begin with, the shear number of titles involved was bound to catch someone's attention. The process is not all computerized. Also, every time the LEIN system is accessed, that is logged. Once they had suspicions, all they had to do was check his paperwork against the LEIN logins. My guess is plea bargain to those single counts and then into the witness protection system.

  • -Nate -Nate on Nov 01, 2016

    Ronnie, Mark ; Good story well done . This Trooper was a boob, not real bright it appears . Ignore the ' Nattering Nabobs Of negativity ' . -Nate

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