News

Road ends for car thief

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

For a few days last summer, a Federal Way car dealership let state troopers pose as salesmen to catch an alleged car thief.

Scott Hogue, general manager of Pacific Coast Ford, said troopers tried to convince Clifton J. Cornelius to come back to the dealership for a Harley-Davidson Ford pickup he had paid for with a check.

Cornelius didn’t take the bait.

However, the State Patrol arrested Cornelius, who had been on the agency’s most-wanted list, on March 17 for car theft after he stole –– or tried to steal –– several vehicles from local dealerships.

Cornelius was arrested outside his apartment in Federal Way after “a short foot pursuit,” according to a State Patrol press release.

Investigators also had a search warrant for his residence and apparently found evidence indicating check fraud and identity theft.

Cornelius is also wanted in Florida on a felony warrant from a similar theft and fraud, according to the State Patrol.

It’s unknown why he decided to make Federal Way his home as opposed to another community.

According to authorities, Cornelius is being investigated for allegedly stealing a Harley-Davidson Ford truck valued at $56,000 from Pacific Coast Ford, a Ford Excursion from Fugate Ford in Enumclaw valued at $48,000, and a Honda CVR 600 motorcycle valued at $11,000 from Tacoma Motorsports. The two Fords were 2004 models.

The Harley-Davidson Ford truck never left the lot in July because Pacific Coast’s sales staff sensed something was wrong, Hogue said.

Dealerships have different policies, but Hogue said Pacific Coast won’t accept checks for the full amount of a vehicle. Pacific Coast also only takes personal checks, and Cornelius was using checks from another business. Hogue said he thinks it was a trucking outfit.

Additionally, Pacific Coast is wary of people who try to pay in full late in the evenings which Cornelius tried to do, Hogue said.

The dealership was contacted by the State Patrol’s auto theft team after the salesman didn’t “roll” the truck and was asked to help, Hogue related.

For several days last summer, Hogue said, state troopers posed as Pacific Coast Ford employees, trying to contact Cornelius and have him come in for the truck.

State Patrol officials were unavailable for comment.

In 2000, according to a St. Petersburg Times story, Cornelius and two accomplices used stolen checks to purchase several high-end vehicles from dealerships in the area of the Florida city.

St. Petersburg police stopped a 1999 Chevrolet Suburban for speeding and found several of the stolen checks inside, the Times reported. The Suburban, a 2001 Infinity QX4 and a 2000 Cadillac Escalade were all purchased from three dealerships in the Florida city. Total cost: $130,000.

The Florida dealerships didn’t contact the organization where the checks were stolen, according to the Times.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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