Episode 023: Cary Thornton – Steamclean, Undercover Sting


Retired agent Cary Thornton served in the FBI for 21 years. He spent his career working undercover on Bureau cases throughout the country and as a technically trained agent. In this episode of FBI Retired Case File Review, Cary is interviewed about an undercover sting and insurance fraud investigation he worked in Detroit for nearly three years where he and two other undercover FBI agents played the roles of owners and operators of an auto wrecking company willing to dispose of cars for cash so their owners could file fraudulent insurance claims. The case was given the Bureau code name Operation Steamclean, which incorporated the term, steaming, slang used to describe dumping a vehicle for the insurance payoff. The case resulted in more than 50 indictments charging individuals with fraudulent claims exceeding $100 million. To learn more about Cary’s FBI career check out his memoir – An Oath of Office.

Special Agent (Retired)

Cary L. Thornton, Jr.

9/17/1979 – 3/31/2001









Cary worked on the Operation Steamclean undercover sting for three years. As information about the fictitious company S & C Auto Brokers spread throughout the Detroit area, potential customers would reach out to the undercover agents day and night to arrange for their cars to be “stolen.” Below are newspaper articles about the case:

FBI Sting Junks Insurance Ring In Detroit

F.B.I. Charges 170 In Car Insurance Fraud

Detroit Intelligence Operation
Cary was involved with Operation Steamclean for three years while assigned to the Detroit Division.







S & C Auto Brokers – The Bureau created fictitious company was a legend in the Detroit auto theft business during the mid-1980’s. Cary was Carl.











Operation Steam Clean
Cary, aka Carl, and associates negotiate with an individual who has a car he was to dispose of.






Cary and associates negotiating another vehicle deal as part of the undercover sting.







Cary was captured by a newspaper photographer in San Juan, Puerto Rico as he entered an abandoned building to locate bank robbery loot using technical recovery equipment.












Cary’s memoir – Oath of Office can be purchased from Amazon or from his website Thornton Books.












Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, attempts to relive her glory days by writing crime fiction and hosting FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast available for free subscription on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, and other popular podcast apps. Her nonfiction book FBI Myths and Misconceptions: A Manual for Armchair Detectives and her FBI corruption squad police procedurals featuring Special Agent Kari Wheeler are available wherever books are sold.


  1. ChristieJuly 24, 2016

    I enjoyed the stories of Cary Thornton and in listening have an even greater respect for his role in law enforcement. Thank you for this podcast.

    1. Jerri WilliamsJuly 24, 2016

      Cary had a great career. I’m honored that he allowed me to share parts of it on this podcast.


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