A St. Paul man who allegedly towed 143 abandoned vehicles to an Anoka scrap metal dealer is being charged with a felony in Anoka County District Court.
James Chester Jennings, 50, was arraigned May 22 in Anoka County District Court on a felony charge of receiving stolen property.
“I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude,” said Coon Rapids Police Det. Chad Duckson, who was involved with the investigation as part of the Anoka County Auto Theft Task Force that receives grant funding from the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
Duckson said this appears to be “a one-man show.” He allegedly used his own flat-bed tow truck to take 143 vehicles abandoned along the road all over the Twin Cities. Fifty were positively identified as stolen vehicles.
According to the complaint, Jennings brought all vehicles to Alter Metal Recycling in Anoka since the beginning of the year. All were crushed.
A multi-agency investigation allegedly found that Jennings falsified vehicle identification numbers on paperwork he filled out at the Anoka business.
Duckson said Alter Metal Recycling is fully cooperating with the investigation.
Alter is a national company with locations in Minnesota, Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Wisconsin. There are five locations alone in Minnesota.
State statute does not require an operator such as Alter Metal Recycling to receive title documentation from a person licensed to sell scrap vehicles. State records show that Jennings’ Auto Assist Towing & Repair business, of Roseville, has a scrap metal processor license that expires in June from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
The person selling a scrap vehicle is required by state law to sign a statement “attesting that the scrap vehicle is not stolen and is free of any liens or encumbrances…”
If a vehicle is 10 years old or older, no title documentation is required regardless whether the vehicle is being sold by a licensed scrap metal processor or an individual.
Duckson said that “it looks like almost every car was over 10 years old.”
Duckson said law enforcement became suspicious of an uptick in reports of abandoned vehicles being stolen after Jan. 1. The Anoka County Auto Theft Task Force deployed a “bait car” on the shoulder of a road and set up surveillance.
Within a few days, the vehicle was towed. The tow truck was stopped and the driver identified as Jennings. Besides the “bait car,” Duckson said another car reported as stolen from Blaine was on the back of the truck.
According to Minnesota court records, Jennings has a lengthy criminal record, including felony convictions for check forgery, along with separate misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor theft charges in the last six years.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]