From Staff Reports
The Athens Review
On Thursday, Steven Joe Clowdus, 31, formerly of Mabank, pled to the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the Placement of a Serial Number with Intent to Change the Identity of a Vehicle. The plea took place in the 173rd Judicial District Court with Judge Dan Moore presiding.
Assistant District Attorney Justin Weiner prosecuted the case on behalf of Scott McKee’s District Attorney’s Office.
“This case is an excellent example of how different law enforcement agencies in our county work together to fight crime,” Weiner said. “The tireless efforts and dedication by the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety ensured that justice was done.”
On Nov. 13, 2012, Clowdus and a female passenger were found asleep in a Dodge pickup truck parked on a public street. Bryan Tower, a captain at the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, noticed that the vehicle was bearing a fictitious vehicle registration sticker, as well as a possibly fictitious vehicle inspection certificate.
Even more out-of-place was the vehicle identification number plate, which was not properly aligned on the dash. This prevented the numbers from being properly displayed through the windshield. When questioned, both individuals provided false names, but were ultimately identified as Amber Schlicht and Steven Clowdus.
They both were arrested by the Sheriff’s Office for giving false names and for public intoxication. Clowdus also had a pending warrant for burglary of a habitation.
Agent Richard Fulton of the Texas Department of Public Safety Regulatory Crimes was called in to assist in the investigation. Upon investigation, Fulton quickly observed that the federal safety label, which is permanently affixed by the manufacturer of the vehicle, had been removed. This is usually done so that individuals can tamper with the vehicular identification number.
Further investigation revealed that Clowdus had wrecked his Dodge pickup truck and had stolen a similar truck. The truck that Clowdus was driving that day had been placed on the side of the road with a “for sale sign.”
Clowdus simply stole that vehicle, which closely resembled his own damaged vehicle and replaced all the information. Clowdus’ wrecked vehicle was ultimately found and all the identifying information had been removed.
According to McKee, the black market for stolen vehicles and vehicles with fictitious identification markers is a major problem in Texas. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Texas ranks second only to California in the number of auto thefts that are reported each year.
McKee stated that many vehicles that are stolen are taken by professionals who drive them onto ships that are heading overseas or to a “chop shop” where cars are dismantled and sold on the black market for parts.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau listed the Honda Accord, Honda Civic and Ford pickups as the top three vehicles stolen in 2012.
“People need to be vigilant about the security of their cars and trucks,” said McKee. “Never leave your vehicle unlocked. Even if you are going to be away from it for just a few minutes, lock your doors and take your keys.”