Grand Theft Auto Key Code: Cedric Duane Burks was a player in an auto-theft ring operated by Levi Elliot and Abraham Elliot based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Once an automobile was targeted for theft, the Elliots would provide Cedric Burks with the automobile’s unique vehicle identification number (“VIN”). Using this information, Cedric Burks would contact a local auto dealership and claim that he was purchasing the vehicle in question and needed the vehicle’s “key code” in order to make a key for the vehicle.
Grand Theft Auto Key Code
A key code is a unique sequence of numbers that a manufacturer assigns to an individual vehicle to allow the vehicle’s owner to make duplicate keys. An individual in possession of a key code for a particular vehicle can make an unlimited number of working keys for that vehicle.
Unaware of the foul play, the dealership employee would give Cedric Burks the code. Cedric Burks then passed the key code to the Elliots, who would compensate him and use the code to make a key to steal the vehicle in question. According to the dealership employee, Cedric Burks requested approximately twenty key codes in 2005.
One vehicle targeted by Levi Elliot and Abraham Elliot was a 2004 Cadillac Escalade, fitted with a custom grille and wheels. In accordance with the plan, Cedric Burks was given the Escalade’s VIN and obtained its key code from his dealership contact. The vehicle’s owners reported it stolen soon thereafter. Several days later, Las Vegas police recovered the Escalade’s frame, which had been completely stripped of its doors, seats, grille, wheels, and various other instruments. Notably, all of the electronic wires were neatly clipped and bundled, and the frame had been smeared in oil to protect it from the weather. Upon recovery, the Escalade’s frame was sold at auction to Abe Elliot, who received legal title to the frame along with a Nevada certificate declaring the vehicle to be non-reparable.
At some point in the following three months, the Escalade was reconstructed and Caesar “Spanky” Martinez purchased insurance for the vehicle in Utah. Caesar “Spanky” Martinez subsequently became a suspect in federal and state investigations into a string of auto thefts in Utah and Nevada. While investigating Martinez, authorities noticed an Escalade at his house, and after some research, discovered that the Escalade was likely the same one that had been stolen, stripped, and auctioned in Las Vegas. The identity of the Escalade was confirmed when law enforcement used the stolen vehicle’s recorded VIN and key code to make a working key, which was used to seize the vehicle from Caesar Martinez.
The Escalade’s ties to Nevada and Levi Elliot and Abraham Elliot became more apparent after Caesar Martinez was arrested. First, Abe Elliot called the Utah state motor vehicle division to inquire about the status of the Escalade. Another man, who gave the name of Ralph Scalbon, also called to report the vehicle stolen, but provided the same callback number as Abe Elliot. This Scalbon moniker closely resembled the name of the individual who allegedly sold the Escalade to Caesar Martinez. Finally, Abe Elliot himself sought to claim the vehicle and was arrested after arriving with a working key.
Law enforcement traced the Escalade back to Cedric Burks, who had been arrested for attempting to sell key codes. Once in custody, Cedric Burks confessed to selling codes to the Elliots as part of their auto-theft scheme. Additionally, Cedric Burks stated that he was aware that Levi Elliot and Abraham Elliot operated in Utah, and did business with an individual named “Spanky.” Following his arrest, however, Cedric Burks stopped selling key codes and helped authorities infiltrate the Elliots’ auto-theft ring.
Based on Cedric Burks’ confession, he was charged with aiding and abetting: (1) the interstate transportation of the stolen Escalade and (2) the possession, receipt, and storage of the stolen Escalade. At trial, Cedric Burks’ counsel objected to two jury instructions now at issue. The first instruction informed the jury that the burden of proving the affirmative defense of withdrawal rested with the defendant. The second instruction permitted the jury to infer that a vehicle stolen in one state and recovered in another was knowingly transported in interstate commerce. Both objections, however, were overruled, and the jury convicted Cedric Burks on both charges.
Following Cedric Burks’ conviction, the district court held a restitution hearing to determine how much compensation was due to the owners of the stolen Escalade. After the Escalade was stolen, the vehicle’s owners filed a claim with their insurance company, which paid to replace the Escalade but charged the owners a $1,000 deductible. Accordingly, the district court ordered that Cedric Burks pay $1,000 to the Escalade’s owners and $49,977 to the insurance company, which represented the amount paid to the Escalade’s owners minus the sum recovered from the sale of the vehicle’s frame at auction. Cedric Burks timely appealed both his conviction and the restitution order, and the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, consolidated the appeals.
On appeal, Cedric Burks argues that the jury was improperly instructed on the affirmative defense of withdrawal and was allowed to make an improper inference that Cedric Burks’ associates knew the vehicle was stolen. The United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, disagree on both points. First, assuming that withdrawal is an affirmative defense to a conviction premised on accomplice liability, the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, held that the jury was properly instructed that the burden of proving the defense rested on Cedric Burks. Second, the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, held that the jury was properly instructed that it could infer that Cedric Burks’ associates knew the vehicle was stolen. The United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, also reject Cedric Burks’ claims that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction and that the district court erred in its restitution order.
The United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit affirmed Cedric Burks’ conviction and affirmed the district court’s restitution order.
The facts summarized above are excerpted from what was written by the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit. More information is available from the source documents: Nos. 10-4180, 10-4210, United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, May 29, 2012, opinion of Lucero with Holloway, and Tymkovich concurring.