Three executives at a Ford/Toyota dealership who allegedly hatched an elaborate scheme to abscond with 81 cars worth $2.5 million have been apprehended, according to authorities.
The trio, Allen Patch, the owner of Legacy Auto Sales in Scotts Bluff, Neb., Rachel Fait, the comptroller of the dealership and Rick Covello, the dealership's general manager, were all apprehended Thursday morning. Two of the suspects were arrested in Utah and a third in Scotts Bluff, police said.
Patch, Fait and Covello each face charges of felony theft after allegedly shipping 81 Fords and Toyotas Monday to various states across the country in hopes of reselling them for profit at auto auctions, according to John Childress, the Scotts Bluff County's chief deputy county attorney.
The intricate plot was executed late on the night of March 10, when nine trucks from a Utah-based shipping company arrived to cart off the 81 cars, according to court documents.
Robert Rausch, the owner of Rausch Transport, alleges that Fait had told him that the cars were involved in a "dealership bankruptcy" and that she "needed to move them to auto auctions."
The drivers of the trucks were awarded with cashier's checks right before they drove away, according to Childress. It has since been determined that those checks were fraudulent.
Rausch was unable to be reached by ABCNews.com.
"They were trying to liquidate a bunch of cars very quickly," said Childress. "Shipping off that many at the same time to different places certainly makes it look like they were trying to make some fast cash."
The missing cars had turned up nationwide, said Childress, from the local airport parking lot to Las Vegas to Utah and possibly in Arizona.
Miranda Cervantes, the dealership's title manager, said she returned to work Tuesday after a day off and found the lot was virtually empty, according to a report in the Scottsbluff Star-Herald. She said the desks of Patch, Fait and Covello had been cleaned out, according to the paper.
"How did they ever think they'd get away with this?" asked Childress. "The volume of cars basically disappearing overnight along with these three executives was very telling that something fishy was going on."
Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer said that not all of the 81 cars have been accounted for. Spencer said that at least 16 of them were sold at an auction in Utah, seven others went to a dealership in the same area and an undetermined number turned up in other states.
Spencer was not sure whether those individuals who purchased the cars through the auction would still be able to keep the vehicles.
Echoing Childress' surprise at the magnitude of the alleged scheme, Spencer said that the situation is "pretty extraordinary."
"We've never seen this -- not 81 cars," he said. "It's very unusual."
The three executives had been working at the dealership for a little more than a year, according to Childress. "They were in financial trouble," said Childress, who is unsure of whether the money involved was going toward the dealership. "Not bankruptcy yet, but the local finance banks were watching them pretty closely.
The trio is in custody, and ABC News was unable to determine if they had lawyers who could comment on the case.
"There is no doubt in my mind that they are going to tell us they were trying to save the dealership," said Spencer. "But we, [the police] don't know what to think just yet."
According to court documents, the three executives asked other employees at the dealership to go to the local courthouse and transfer the Manufacturer's Statement of Origin documents into Nebraska titles.
This is common practice, said Childress, for car dealers who want to transport a car to an owner or to another dealership, which cannot be done without a working title.
Katymay Carlson, an employee of the dealership who had been on the job only two weeks, told police that her boss, Fait, had asked her to get the titles for some of the missing cars and to pay the administrative fees in cash only.
"They were using me," Carlson told police, according to the documents.
Cervantes was also asked to get titles for 18 cars.
Cervantes told police that she overheard Fait and the other two executives talking about taking money from the business and had learned that Fait had been depositing checks made out to the dealership into a bank account unknown to her and other employees.
Each of the accused could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.