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Former SEMO women's basketball coach accused in a multi-state car theft ring

A former Southeast Missouri State University women's basketball coach who is now coaching at a northeast Kansas community college was arraigned Tuesday in a multi-state car theft conspiracy.

William J. Smith, 48, of Highland, Kan., is charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts each of mail fraud and receipt of a stolen motor vehicle. Not guilty pleas were entered on his behalf during his arraignment in federal court in St. Louis.

Smith is among 21 people charged in a conspiracy that prosecutors allege involved more than 100 vehicles. The U.S. attorney's office said in a release that the defendants stole or fraudulently obtained vehicles from individuals and automobile dealerships in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, and used different schemes to obtain insurance proceeds by staging accidents and filing false theft reports.

Some vehicles were obtained when "straw" purchasers made false statements on loan applications and submitted fraudulent earnings statements to obtain loans for typically high-end vehicles. The defendants used and then sold or disposed of the vehicles while the loan defaulted. The indictment said tracking systems such as OnStar were disabled so the stolen vehicles could not be traced by law enforcement.

The indictment said that in 2011 and 2012, Smith obtained fraudulent transfer titles from the Osage Nation for a dozen vehicles, including two Mercedes. The titles allowed the vehicles to be resold.

Smith resigned as women's basketball coach at SEMO, which is in Cape Girardeau, in December 2006 after four seasons. He's the current women's basketball coach at Highland Community College in northeast Kansas. Craig Mosher, the vice president for institutional advancement at Highland Community College, said Smith is not suspended and said the school is waiting for the outcome of the legal process.

Smith, who is free on bond, didn't immediately return cellphone or email messages from The Associated Press.

Sean Vicente, an assistant federal public defender, said he represented Smith for the arraignment only and that the court would appoint an attorney outside the public defender's office because of a potential conflict. He declined to comment further.

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Information from: KFVS-TV, http://www.kfvs12.com