A St. Paul man with a length criminal history was in custody Thursday, accused of plucking dozens and possibly well more than 125 abandoned vehicles from along Twin Cities roadsides in recent months and then selling them for scrap, authorities said.
Towing operator James C. Jennings, 50, of St. Paul, remained jailed without bail in Anoka County after his arrest Wednesday on suspicion of receiving stolen property.
Law enforcement first snared Jennings in Coon Rapids, after he used a flatbed truck on May 1 and stole a "bait car" that was under police surveillance along Highway 610 near East River Road, according to authorities. A second vehicle on the truck at that time had recently been stolen in Blaine.
"We were seeing an uptick in the thefts" along the highway, said Coon Rapids police Detective Chad Duckson. "So we said, ’Let’s put some bait out and see if he hits.’ "
Jarrett was arrested May 8 at his east metro office, where he operates Auto Assist Towing and Repair, and was charged with conspiracy to commit auto theft. He posted bail and was released.
Investigators later learned that Jennings has sold 143 mostly older and well-worn vehicles for scrap in the past four months to Alter Metal Recycling in Anoka, police said.
"Near as we can tell, he’s kind of a one-man show," Duckson said. "He looks for broken-down cars, tows them and gets his money."
Duckson said Jennings was probably collecting $300 to $600 per vehicle, with the price based on weight.
So far, 50 of the vehicles have been confirmed as stolen from around the metro area, according to police. Jennings was then arrested again Wednesday.
Duckson said he expects nearly all of the 143 vehicles will end up having been stolen.
"He’s hit all over," the detective said, "St. Paul, Coon Rapids, Brooklyn Park, Blaine and everywhere in between."
Duckson said there’s no evidence that the scrap yard was in cahoots with Jennings, adding that "you need a "Ph.D. to figure out" the latest legal requirements in the metal recycling industry.
Scrap yards "are supposed to collect vehicle information for what is brought in," namely a vehicle identification number, Duckson said. The yard then goes to a website a "in a reasonable amount of time" and logs the number.
"Alter Metal is cooperating fully," the detective said. "I don’t believe that they were acting criminally."
Jennings’ criminal history in Minnesota spans more than a quarter-century, with convictions including check forgery, theft, driving with a suspended license and fifth-degree assault.