By on January 28, 2017

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An unnamed State Department employee and the manager of a northern Virginia repair shop appropriated and sold government vehicles for profit, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed Thursday.

The kickback scheme, detailed in a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, saw over a dozen State Department motor pool SUVs and a truckload of tires and wheels sold through a collision repair shop in Springfield, Virginia. The shop, Car Collision Center, is the go-to repair facility for various government departments.

It also has a license to sell vehicles.

Following an investigation, the DOJ learned that an unnamed State Department official who was responsible for repair and maintenance of armored motor pool vehicles — as well as record-keeping — funneled unarmored SUVs to the manager of the repair shop, who then sold them for profit. The retailing side of the business is known as Collector’s Auto Restoration.

Most of the proceeds went to the manager and a second, unnamed person at the shop. The government official, identified only as “Person B” in court documents, pocketed the rest.

James Ratcliffe, 67, has pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a charge of conspiracy to commit theft of government property, as well as wire fraud. The manager, who faces up to two years in prison (under federal guidelines) and a fine of up to $40,000, is required to pay back $416,020 in restitution, plus the same amount in a forfeiture money judgement.

How did the scheme come together? The DOJ document states:

According to the statement of offense, on at least two occasions in 2011 and 2012, “Person B” caused truckloads of State Department tires and wheels to be delivered to the Collision Center. “Person B” told Ratcliffe that he could sell them and keep the proceeds. Ratcliffe kept the full proceeds of his sales, which amounted to at least $7,500.

 Also, beginning in or before June 2011, and continuing through at least November 2013, “Person B” and Ratcliffe took a Hummer and 12 Chevrolet Suburbans from the State Department motor pool; these vehicles were unarmored. They agreed that Ratcliffe would sell the vehicles and split the proceeds with “Person B.” Ratcliffe typically sold the misappropriated vehicles for at or near market prices. The total sales price of the misappropriated vehicles was $408,520, according to the statement of offense. Ratcliffe and “Person A” kept the majority of these proceeds for their personal benefit and the remainder went to “Person B.” Additionally, in 2015, “Person B” provided Ratcliffe with two unarmored Suburbans that Ratcliffe kept at his place of business or home. The base price of these vehicles was $48,200 each, for a total of $96,400. The two vehicles were recovered during a law enforcement investigation of the criminal activities.

The total value of the U.S. property funneled to Ratcliffe is estimated at $512,420.

[Image: General Motors]

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34 Comments on “State Department Official Funneled Government SUVs to Retailer in Kickback Scheme: DOJ...”


  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Monica at GAO could cripple chumps like these in her sleep.

  • avatar
    ant

    So, a half million dollars.

    Not really that big, as far as a Washington DC grift goes.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    This isn’t even good crime; just stupidity.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    How did they handle the titling and sale of Fedgov property? How did they handle plates?

    Based on the limited information, I wonder if they operated this the way heroin dealers operate in my region. You are an addict and need product, you offer your car as payment. Said dealer takes car, but never titles or owns it, they just drive and trash it for a period (which also gives them slight anonymity for the period). Rinse and repeat. If this is the case how stupid do you have to be to kick over 50 large to ride around in a stolen vehicle with a plate from the State Department (unless local police ignore State Dept plates by practice, then it starts to make more sense)?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Since he was partnered with a collision repair shop, I assume the guy made a false entry into the State Deprtment or GSA’s inventory management system(hence the wire fraud charge?) He listed it as totaled in the system but that didn’t trigger a salvage title.

      Eventually an auditor or the system noticed that the loss ratio at this location was wildly out of line and they began an investigation.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        This would account for it not being reported stolen or missing, but doesn’t explain how license plates or titling were handled. The more I think about it, this might have something to do with traveling in a “State Dept” vehicle, perhaps this gives someone an added air of importance among VA/DC local police.

        • 0 avatar
          el scotto

          If they had GSA, DC, or diplomatic plates; no one in the DC area would care.

        • 0 avatar

          I would assume the gov self insures. So enter a vehicle as totaled in the system as totaled, get a title to sell as scrap give title to body shop sell truck.

        • 0 avatar
          quasimondo

          State Dept vehicles are no different than any other govt vehicle. That air of importance only works overseas.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            No there definitely is some latitude given vehicles that look like gov’t vehicles. Whether by police, other gov’t employees or the general public.

        • 0 avatar
          jmo

          Someone below mentioned that postal vehicles don’t have titles. I assume there is a process for titling vehicles sold by the federal government and the scam took advantage of a loophole in that system.

          Edit: A quick search says in you buy a used vehicle from the GSA you get a certificate that lets you obtain a state title*. I assume the guy had a way of getting that certificate issued on a vehicle marked totaled in the GSA system.

          * I think you are assuming vehicles need titles. That’s true of those owned by individuals, corporations, trusts, etc. but likely not true of sovereign entities like individual states or the federal government.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            The state, county and city owned vehicles in my state do have titles and sate exempt plates. The plates of course are removed when they go to surplus and then a person signs the title on behalf of the agency, and puts his title next to that signature.

  • avatar
    FalcoDog

    It’s okay though. Person “B” had their own email server so it’s all good.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I know cars are the commodity in play, but is this actually a car story?

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      Good question, in context of Bark’s departure.

      One might argue that this is very, very, very thinly disguised news or political commentary, using the fact of cars as the crutch that leverages the story onto this site.

    • 0 avatar
      whynotaztec

      I think it’s a car story and an interesting one given the details of how they did it, where did the cars eventually go, etc

      Although someone will try to make it political, I can’t see how this could be tied to either party or ideology. It’s simply about taxpayers being taken advantage of someone that they pay to watch out for their own interests. So we have all been fleeced. I hope jail time is the result for our civil servant.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I don’t see it as a car story. It’s more of a government corruption article. There are plenty of other things happening right now in the automotive world that could have been written about instead of this.

    • 0 avatar
      mtmmo

      Mark Stevenson earns Every. Single. Penny.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      It’s a car story if someone might be in the market for a lightly used Suburban or any other vehicle commonly used by a government agency (local, state or federal) in or near an area where one of these vehicles might show up for sale. I see it as a warning to that someone to closely check out the vehicle to avoid being caught up in a similar situation. Really has nothing to do with politics; I’m willing to bet that this was a career civil “servant” whose politics are limited to lining his own pockets. IIRC something similar happened years ago with purloined government vehicles being marketed in Mexico by another civil “servant” through a middle-man.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Meh, I don’t see a whole lot of political implications in this piece. People have been grifting the government since the invention of governments.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      It’s definitely a car story. Not a car-industry latest and greatest model car story, but relevant and interesting.
      There is a fine line between perceived relevance and censorship. A bit more information is better than a bit less.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    s/ Now if they had been ARMORED then you’d have a real story there.

  • avatar

    There’s no mention in the press release about the fate of Person B, the State Dept. official central to the scheme. I wonder if he or she will be prosecuted. If so, it will be interesting to see who gets the better plea bargain, the thief or the fence.

  • avatar
    manu06

    Are US government owned vehicles have to be titled ? Postal vehicles aren’t . What about the rest ?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      It says if you buy a used vehicle at a GSA auction you get a certificate that lets you get a state level title. I assume that means federally owned vehicles don’t have “titles” like we would think of them.

      “Purchasers of motor vehicles will receive a GSA Form 27A, “Purchaser’s Receipt and Authority to Release Property,” and a Standard Form (SF) 97-1, “The United States Government Certificate To Obtain Title To A Vehicle.” SF 97-1 is not a title; it is evidence of title only for authority to obtain title at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to a vehicle by the purchaser.”

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I’d like one of those equipped with the mini gun that pops up from the roof.
    .
    .

  • avatar
    240SX_KAT

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of scumbags.
    I had my car ‘repaired’ by these clowns back in the 90s. Bad color match, runs, overspray and tape edges. I was like they spent a good 15 minutes working on prep.
    After giving them three tries to fix it I gave up and lived with it.
    At least the paint didn’t peel with time.

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