Law-enforcement officials last week broke up a long-running, stolen-auto-parts ring at a Michigan plant owned by bankrupt auto supplier Venture Corp.
The investigation centers on General Motors Corp. bumpers stolen from a Venture plant in Grand Blanc and sold to outside auto-body firms, the Free Press learned. The Grand Blanc plant makes bumpers and other parts for various GM vehicles, such as the Pontiac G6 sedan, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks.
According to workers at the plant and Venture officials, Grand Blanc Township police Thursday boarded a truck filled with about 200 bumpers leaving the plant early in the morning for a warehouse in metro Detroit. Bumpers can sell for $200 or more each on the open market.
Police, tipped off by a worker in the plant, showed up at 5 a.m. and questioned the truck driver before calling Venture executives. Venture, based in Fraser, is one of the world's largest auto-plastics suppliers. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2003 and has been unable to emerge from it. It hopes to do so next month.
One supervisor was suspended, and the company is investigating to determine how long the theft occurred and how many bumpers were stolen from the plant.
"We believe this has been going on for months, but we are still investigating to see how many parts were taken over the course of several months," said David Barnes, general counsel for Venture. "It's a larger enterprise than just this one truck, but we think it was limited to this one person inside the plant."
Barnes declined to identify the employee. A person familiar with the case said it was a shift supervisor.
GM officials said they worked with Grand Blanc police on the investigation. Grand Blanc police did not return two Free Press calls.
"We are aware of the investigation related to the theft and potential resale of GM bumpers produced at Venture's Grand Blanc plant. GM is cooperating with authorities on the investigation," GM spokesman Tom Wickham said.
Workers at the plant told the Free Press the FBI also investigated the theft, but Barnes and others familiar with the investigation insisted that is not true. The FBI office in Flint said it could neither confirm nor deny any investigation, which is standard FBI practice when called about investigations.
A Taylor bumper company, Bumpers.com, is linked to the probe. The company, which sells bumpers to consumers for GM, Ford and other automakers, was called by Grand Blanc police after the company's name turned up on an invoice inside the bumper-filled truck.
A Bumpers.com official said his company doesn't do business with the Grand Blanc plant but previously did through an employee it fired in March for theft and embezzlement. He said the company also became suspicious when that ex-employee always wrote checks for cash when buying bumpers from Venture.
"I think our name showed up on an invoice because our old employee is part of this theft from the Venture plant. That's just my speculation, but I think he was using our name as he dealt with people in that plant, even though we fired him months ago," said Tom Thomson, an officer with Bumpers.com. "There's a lot of money to be made in selling bumpers, in selling auto parts to consumers. This is big business."
Barnes declined to comment on Bumpers.com.
The Grand Blanc plant, which employs about 700 people, was cited in bankruptcy court papers earlier this year for "apparent accounting irregularities." A controller at the plant resigned as part of those irregularities.
According to an audit of the plant, it understated in 2002-03 what it owed creditors by $8 million to $10 million while also overstating its inventory by $2.5 million to $2.8 million. This would have the effect of making Venture look more profitable.
Barnes said he believed this stolen-parts ring was unrelated to the old accounting problems.