Feds crack train heist involving new Detroit vehicles, black market key fobs

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Dearborn man stole more than 1,000 key fobs from new vehicles loaded on freight trains in Detroit, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Jason Gibbs, 41, was charged following a two-year investigation that involved train cops, an automotive black market and a trail of evidence that led to eBay. That's where a mystery seller was hawking stolen devices that could be reprogrammed to provide keyless entry to vehicles made by General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, according to an affidavit written by U.S. Postal Inspector Mykeita Brown.

Jason Gibbs

The affidavit and criminal complaint charging Gibbs with theft from an interstate freight shipment describes a lucrative scheme that generated tens of thousands of dollars and targeted brand new vehicles delivered by train to Detroit, including the Ford Mustang Cobra, Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and Ford F-150 Raptor.

A lawyer for Gibbs is not listed in federal court records.

The investigation focused on a CSX Transportation rail yard in New Boston, near Detroit Metropolitan Airport, where GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler haul new vehicles made in Michigan and neighboring states.

The 2020 Ford F-150 Raptor.

Each vehicle arrives at the New Boston facility unlocked with two key fobs. Porters use the fobs to drive vehicles off tractor trailers and onto specialized railroad freight cars. Once loaded, the key fobs are left inside the unlocked vehicles and the sealed freight cars depart New Boston.

In February 2018, Detroit automakers started complaining about key fobs missing from new cars arriving at dealerships.

An internal audit revealed all of the vehicles with missing fobs originated at the New Boston facility.

The federal investigation into stolen key fobs focused on a CSX freight yard.

An employee of a CSX subsidiary discovered someone was selling fobs on eBay similar to ones that had been reported missing. The seller account was "i_love_12volts," which eBay records indicate has a 100% seller rating.

Investigators learned the account was assigned to a Metro Detroit man who already was under investigation by Ford security. Ford investigators in February 2018 had purchased three key fobs from the man and all three devices belonged to Ford F-150 trucks that had arrived at the New Boston facility.

The key fobs arrived in a parcel containing a return address of 7400 Mansfield in Detroit. The address turned out to be a vacant home, according to the affidavit.

The parcel containing Ford key fobs had a return address of this vacant home in Detroit.

Though the home was vacant, investigators learned Gibbs was a past tenant and that he worked at the New Boston facility as a CSX contractor. Gibbs was a porter who had access to new cars arriving at the New Boston facility, according to the affidavit.

Facebook records showed Gibbs and the man linked to the eBay account were friends and grew up in the same neighborhood on the west side of Detroit, according to the affidavit.

Postal inspectors got involved in March 2018. The three key fobs Ford purchased on eBay arrived in a parcel. Postage for the parcel was paid for with a debit card linked to Gibbs, according to the affidavit.

That parcel was mailed from the New Boston post office less than a mile from the rail yard, investigators said.

Two key fobs are given to the owners of the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. The black fob limits engine output to 500 horsepower, while the red one allows the full output of over 800 horsepower.

Ford sent payment for the eBay key fobs to a PayPal account registered to @scarpone21, which also is a name associated with Gibbs' Instagram account, according to investigators.

Based on that information, investigators raided Gibbs' home in Dearborn in May 2018.

Gibbs spoke with investigators and, according to the affidavit, admitted using the "i_love_12volts" eBay account. Five days later, Gibbs was fired.

EBay records showed that the PayPal account linked to Gibbs received $60,570 for selling 1,914 key fobs. The sales happened in late 2017 and 2018.

"All 1,914 key fobs were associated with cars that were shipped through the New Boston facility and loaded onto autoracks, which became a part of CSX freight trains," Postal investigator Brown wrote. "The destinations of these CSX freight trains were all located outside of Michigan."

Investigators traced most of the key fob purchases to a California buyer. EBay and PayPal records showed the California buyer would sell the fobs online for $69-$160.

"It is believed that the end users would use the key fobs (to) attempt to reprogram them so they could be used on other cars," Brown wrote.


Twitter: @robertsnellnews