The car dealerships could not find the people who had defaulted on loans and whose vehicles they intended to repossess.
So on about 60 occasions over 29 months, they turned to an Omaha police detective with access to a database containing information on suspects and witnesses, criminal histories, driver's license information and other data.
The dealerships and repossession companies received leads on the locations of vehicles from detective Kevin L. Cave in exchange for paying him as much as $200 per lead.
Cave had access to computers intended for and legally restricted to legitimate police work, and not meant to be used to run a side business.
He admitted in federal court Tuesday to selling information from the database, the Nebraska Criminal Justice Information System.
Cave, 37, was paid about $16,000 from March 2010 to August 2012 for supplying addresses and other information to help dealerships find vehicles they intended to repossess, according to the indictment charging him.
He pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Omaha to exceeding authorized access to a protected computer for private financial gain, a felony.
Under a plea agreement, Cave will receive no more than six months in prison when U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon sentences him in November. He could receive no prison time.
Cave's employment with the Police Department ended in September amid an FBI investigation of his use of the database.
The FBI subpoenaed Cave's bank records, which showed the dealership payments, Jan Sharp, chief criminal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Omaha, said Tuesday during the hearing.
The businesses were not identified in the indictment.
Cave earned about $70,000 in 2010 from his work as an officer. He is seeking payment from the city for 1,100 hours of unused sick time over his nearly 10-year career. The sick leave totals about $33,500.
The matter is in dispute, and Cave has filed a lawsuit against the city in Douglas County District Court. The City of Omaha says it fired Cave; Cave has said he resigned before the termination took effect.
Cave became an Omaha police officer in September 2002.
Lt. Darci Tierney, an Omaha police spokeswoman, declined to discuss what specific steps the Police Department may have taken to prevent future misuses of law enforcement databases. She said the department “does review protocols in the aftermath of incidents.”