78-Year-Old Dan Ott Has Stolen More Than 1,000 Cars in His Life. And Left Plenty of Damage Along the Way

78-Year-Old Dan Ott Has Stolen More Than 1,000 Cars in His Life. And Left Plenty of Damage Along the Way
Artwork by Joey Feldman

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But there are a handful of officers, however, who are fond of the man in a way and who did talk to Scene. Because Dan Ott has stories, and many of them have been beneficial to law enforcement. The Vegas odds on someone with Ott's track record landing in jail are pretty high; the Vegas odds on someone like him staying out as long as he has say he's learned to play the game. Current and former officers described a mutually beneficial relationship over the years. If a friend was in trouble — say, a daughter of a friend who had recently passed away and who was picked up on a meth charge — Ott had a card to turn over to get her help. If he were in some serious shit himself, he had bigger cards to reveal.

One former officer recalled Ott helping him on a murder case in Cuyahoga County as far back as 1987. The Plain Dealer covered a case in 1996 where Ott testified against a man named Ronald Dudas who was accused of offering $2,500 to anyone who would break the hand of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Patrick Curran. (Dudas claimed Ott was just trying to lessen his sentence by lying. In 2005, Dudas was charged with trying to hire a hitman from jail to kill Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge David Matia.)

"He's a career criminal," says one current officer who's dealt with Ott. "He would call and I knew we were about to engage in business of a sort. I couldn't use him as a confidential informant because his criminal record was too bad, but he could provide me information and I could take that information and make the arrest on my own. His information was always spot on. The only thing he wouldn't do is say anything about the Hells Angels; I think he considered them family. Mongols and Pagans, sure. But no one wearing a red and white patch." Ott had built a relationship with the motorcycle club since his early days on the east side of Cleveland back in the late 1960s and early '70s. Most years, he'd head to Sturgis to join the annual biker party on his Harley too. "But when it came to a shitbag corner dope dealer or someone with guns, it was different.

"He calls me one time and asks if we're looking for a guy passing fraudulent American Express checks," the officer says. "I say yeah, I think the Secret Service is too. He says, 'Well, I got him in my car. Call your buddy and tell him I'm going to be going northbound at this intersection. Have him parked on the eastbound side. I'm going to run a stop sign. Have your friend pull me over. My friend in the car has warrants out for his arrest.'

"Sure as shit, Ott runs the stop sign and the guy pulls him over," he says. "I had my radio on. There's a foot pursuit. My guy is chasing him, I'm listening. He calls me up. 'That cop you sent is really fast, because he caught him. Good thing you sent a fast one.'"

That's just one. The officer has seven or eight more, all along the same theme: When Ott is in trouble, he'll tell you something, but he's not going to give up everything at first, and he's only going to tell you what he thinks you need to know.

"He calls me up one time and says, 'Hey, I'm in trouble,'" the officer says.

Ott had been arrested in March 2008 in Akron for breaking and entering. An off-duty narcotics officer had come upon the old man loading appliances from a house that was for sale into a truck in February. Ott knew it was a cop and the cop knew Ott was a bad guy, so the cop pulls his gun and Ott hops in the car and drives off.

But they picked up Ott in March — they knew who they were looking for, after all, they'd seen his license plate; they were just curious how he did it — and Ott called the officer and the officer asked him how he got in the house and Ott told him: He'd known the realtor and her contract wasn't going to be renewed by the sellers and she turned over the lockbox code as a final eff-you.

"He wanted to know what it would take to not send him to prison," the officer says. "After talking to the prosecutor, I told him it had to be substantial. So he tells me: 'How about you check with your property crime people and see if they're missing a $30,000 Ditch Witch. I might know where it is.' They, of course, were missing one. I call him back and say meet me tomorrow morning at 9. 'I think I can do that,' he says. 'It's going to be real lucky if I can find this thing, but I think I can do that.' Sure as shit, he pulls up at 9 the next morning in his truck, a $30,000 Ditch Witch on a trailer. 'Call the prosecutor,' he says."

Just business, of a sort, if an odd one for someone who vilifies those he believes have snitched on him.

In the mid-2000s, Dan Ott was taking Corvette orders from Joseph Rosebrook in Ohio's Logan County. The man who the Columbus Dispatch called the Chop Shop King of Ohio operated what authorities believed to be one of the largest and best-organized operations in the nation. He'd done so for more than two decades in the heart of Ohio. That was both a testament to his skill —detectives say he compartmentalized his business so that no one arm knew much about the other — and his ruthlessness. Over the years, authorities had tried numerous times to bring Rosebrook down with the help of informants. But witnesses had a funny way of disappearing.

click to enlarge Joseph Rosebrook
Joseph Rosebrook

Back in October of 1983, cops picked up an associate of Rosebrook's named Ray Payne. Payne took a deal and was set to testify against Rosebrook when trial began on June 13, 1984. On June 11, Payne climbed into the van in his driveway, turned the key, and the van exploded. He wasn't killed, but three months later, after he recovered at the hospital under the watch of guards, he testified. He ranted about Rosebrook's attempt on his life, but the case was about breaking and entering. A mistrial was declared.

In 1999, Logan County detectives thought they had finally scored another big break when a Rosebrook associate, 18-year-old Mike Lattimer, began cooperating with them. In November of that year, Lattimer disappeared. He was last seen getting into Rosebrook's car, according to the Columbus Dispatch. He's never been found or seen again.

Authorities tried again, successfully this time, in 2004, raiding Rosebrook's 75-acre property after a lengthy investigation. Rosebrook was on house arrest awaiting trial on a slew of charges resulting from the raid when he reached out to Dan Ott. Rosebrook wanted a potential witness dead. He offered Ott $2,000 upfront and $13,000 afterward to kill Curt Frazier. The dealings were caught on a wiretap.

There are two versions of exactly how that transpired.

Ott says that he was never going to kill Frazier, that he told Rosebrook he would find someone to do it but that the wiretap had already been set up — their conversation was simply caught in the moment.

Logan County detectives tell a different version. The deal had already been in place when Ott got caught stealing a car there. He came forward, said he had bigger fish.

"He was given a deal," says one detective. "If you wire up and get incriminating evidence against Joe, we won't charge you."

Officers got what they needed and Rosebrook caught an additional conspiracy to commit murder charge on top of the stolen property items. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Rosebrook was allegedly not too happy with Dan Ott's role in putting him behind bars. So, according to investigators, he talked to 41-year-old Chad South, a guy he'd known very well in Logan County who also happened to be serving time in the same prison. Rosebrook's brother, Jeff, a Perry township trustee, would facilitate payment for the hit once South left prison and killed Ott.

Which is how Chad South allegedly came to be in Dan Ott's Burton township house with a shotgun and mask the morning of May 26, 2006. How exactly he was so wrong is unclear. Authorities believe he might have known that he had the wrong Dan Ott given the old man he was looking for and the young man he found, but the young man ended up dead nevertheless.

"[Rosebrook] never really knew where I lived, just that it was a suburb of Cleveland," Ott says. "He never really knew my name. We've done business for years and years and years, but all he ever called me was Red."

Joseph Rosebrook, Jeff Rosebrook and Chad South were arrested on June 1, 2015, for Ott's death. The murder-for-hire plot gone wrong made national news.

"It was only six months in [after the killing] that this theory began to evolve," says Geauga County Sheriff Daniel McLelland. "The issues with this group, you have to understand, this group is known to do this. The crime stems from witness intimidation. So people, in general, were reluctant to talk. From the start, this was basically an attempt to silence somebody."

click to enlarge Jeff Rosebrook
Jeff Rosebrook

Alleged triggerman Chad South and the Rosebrook brothers were arraigned in late June. Ott's parents, Leroy and Linda, were in the courtroom.

"I know how bad these people are and they kill witnesses and stuff," Ott's father Leroy told the Geauga County Maple Leaf. "My hope is nobody else is killed." The father was mainly concerned that people in the neighborhood still believed that his son had somehow done something to invite trouble. "They need to know he didn't cause his own death and he's not responsible," Leroy Ott told the paper. "It was a mistaken identity."

Dan Ott had never mentioned the other Dan Ott, or the Rosebrooks for that matter, before the arrests were announced. Asked about the news a few weeks later, Ott fills in some blanks. Authorities had called him back when Ott was murdered, and there'd been at least one attempt on his life after that, he says: A car sprayed bullets at him in his driveway one morning.

As for the unfortunate soul who did nothing to put himself in danger except share his name, the guy with the green thumb and the girlfriend and the bulldog named Mulligan, Ott doesn't elaborate much but says, "The more I read about it ... the guy worked at a nursery. He was just a Joe Blow civilian."

If the job offer from GM was a chance at becoming a normal citizen that Ott never got to take, the bullets sprayed at his truck were another in a string of chances he chose not to take.

With the Logan County operation shut down, Ott found other outlets for his talents. For four years after diming out Rosebrook and dodging another courtroom, Ott stole Corvettes for a chop shop ring based out of Northeast Ohio. That he avoided arrest during that time wasn't entirely surprising. He'd done it before, and age hadn't dulled his skills.

"One of the lead investigators said he was one the best he'd ever seen at eluding police," says one current officer familiar with the case. "And in my career, he was one of the most sophisticated criminals I'd ever dealt with."

The feds finally got their man though. In June 2010, aircraft tracked Ott as he dropped off a stolen red Corvette in a garage. Hours later, two unmarked cars and two Ohio State Highway Patrol cars pulled Ott over on Route 8. He was driving his truck at the time. Hitched to the back was a trailer he'd stolen from a parking lot.

"I was so sure of myself," he says. He thinks a guy he was working with ended up talking to the feds after being caught selling meth, and he might have, but authorities had also been tracking Ott's cell phone to towers near dealerships where Corvettes had disappeared. Like the one in North Canton and the one in Pennsylvania. (Ott told investigators he did the Pennsylvania dealer a favor by taking a 2003 Corvette, calling it a piece of junk.)

Ott was indicted for stealing 14 Corvettes in all, worth some $700,000. He told investigators at the time of his arrest they probably missed another four.

"They didn't know half of it," he says now. "They still don't."

The dominoes fell from there. Sixty-one-year-old Ronald Mysyk of Westlake and alleged co-conspirator William Rocco of Macedonia were at the end of the trail. They'd allegedly operated a $1.5-million chop shop with garages in Bedford, Brunswick and Sagamore Hills, according to a 2014 RICO filing in Cuyahoga County.

For his part, Ott was sentenced in 2011 to 51 months in federal prison in North Carolina and ordered to pay $533,000 in restitution. He served three of the four years.

Dan Ott still lives in the same Akron suburb where he's neighbors with former FBI agent Keith Thornton. He did end up building a nice little legal nest egg for himself. He's got a vacation property in Florida and a slew of rental properties he owns and works on. He's still got his truck and the red 2002 Corvette.

"I'm sure if a Corvette came up missing, they'll come knocking at my door," Ott says. "But there's nothing to follow me about now. [Ohio State Highway Patrol Detective Mike] McCarthy is the latest guy who has it out for me. I'm sure he thinks I'm still doing stuff. It's all too involved. I'm too old for that stuff now."

You'd like to take Dan Ott at his word, but it's hard to.

"He will never stop doing this," says one current officer. "His rap sheet is as tall as you with real small print. He will be committing crimes till the day he dies."

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