When career car thief Daniel C. Ott Sr. visited Hufstetler Auto Sales early last year to check out a loaded convertible Corvette, he was smooth in his approach.
The 73-year-old chitchatted with owner David Hufstetler and, on the sly, made an imprint of the key so he could manufacture a copy and return later to steal the $28,000 vehicle.
“He’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to talk to,” Hufstetler recalled. “It was like dealing with grandpa. Then you find out grandpa is a thief. You think, ‘Oh, man, really? That old man?’ ”
Ott, of Bath Township, was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland to 51 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $533,000 in restitution, authorities said.
He stole at least 14 new and used Corvettes throughout northern Ohio and Pennsylvania between April 2009 and May 2010. He was indicted last year on charges of aiding and abetting the operation of an automobile chop shop and interstate transportation of stolen property.
In addition to the vehicles, he was charged with stealing a compressor from a Medina County construction site and selling it in Pennsylvania.
Ott stole the Corvettes from auto dealers and provided them to individuals running illegal chop shops, where the vehicles would be broken down and the parts resold, authorities said.
Two of the vehicles were taken to garages in Sagamore Hills Township and Bedford, where authorities say they also found parts from other cars.
Ott told authorities that he was paid $1,200 for each Corvette and he estimated that he has stolen more than 100 of the high-end sports cars — which cost about $50,000 new — in his career, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.
He also told authorities that he often “fills orders” for certain vehicles wanted by the chop shops, the affidavit says.
According to a Beacon Journal story from February 1980, Ott was convicted and sent to federal prison for his part in an interstate car theft ring, which included the theft of an FBI pickup.
He also was convicted of auto theft in the late 1990s.
In the Hufstetler dealership case, Ott returned to steal the vehicle when Hufstetler wasn’t around and used the key he had made to drive the Corvette off the lot.
Authorities guessed that Ott made an imprint while Hufstetler was lifting the hood to look at the engine, Hufstetler said.
He said the theft caused major insurance problems for his dealership. He lost money on the stolen Corvette and then had to switch insurance companies because his premium shot up.
“He stole my car and I didn’t do anything wrong, but I’m the one paying,” Hufstetler said. “He sure messes up people’s lives for him making $1,200. If I could do it over again, I would give him the $1,200 not to touch me.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.