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Man allegedly stole, scrapped cars around Twin Cities, West St. Paul
Courtesy of Anoka County
A Twin Cities man allegedly stole a pickup in West St. Paul, an incident that is possibly connected with dozens of vehicle thefts throughout the metro area, police say.
James Chester Jennings, 50, is facing two felony charges, theft and theft of a motor vehicle, after West St. Paul police obtained surveillance footage at Wal-Mart in West St. Paul that showed two men using a tow truck to steal a pickup, according to the criminal complaint filed in Dakota County District Court. The complaint said Jennings is from Minneapolis.
Officers of the West St. Paul Police Department were summoned to the store's parking lot at about 9:54 p.m. April 8. A female reported her Ford pickup truck had been stolen while she was shopping, according to the complaint.
Surveillance cameras caught two men loading her pickup onto a red flat-bed tow truck and driving out of the parking lot.
About a month later, West St. Paul police received information from the Coon Rapids Police Department that two men, Jennings and another referred to in the complaint only by his initials, R.W., had been arrested after they apparently stole a car intended to bait criminals in Coon Rapids.
A West St. Paul officer interviewed R.W. at the Anoka County jail. The man reportedly told police that Jennings pays him to clean out cars that he tows, and then Jennings scraps the cars for money, according to the complaint. The man mentioned a truck matching the description of the pickup that had been stolen in West St. Paul.
On May 8, Anoka County police were notified of a bait car moving at about 9:24 a.m, according to the complaint filed in Anoka County District Court, which charged Jennings with conspiracy to commit theft.
The vehicle was placed about a week earlier to combat and catch motor vehicle thieves. A red, flat-bed two truck was seen moving the bait car, the complaint said.
The Anoka County complaint said Jennings lives in St. Paul.
Several police departments are now investigating possibly more than 40 car thefts that Jennings may have been involved in around the Twin Cities area, according to West St. Paul Police Lt. Brian Sturgeon.
"This is a major auto theft ring that he was involved in," Sturgeon said.
He said police are investigating at least two other car thefts in West St. Paul, and "dozens and dozens of them throughout the metro area," with which Jennings, a towing operator, may be connected. Sturgeon said at least one other person was allegedly involved with the car thefts.
Jennings was released from Dakota County jail May 13. He was booked at the Anoka County jail May 21, on suspicion of receiving stolen property, according to jail staff.
Jennings has been previously accused of theft, check forgery and assault, among other charges and convictions, according to Minnesota criminal records.
Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.