COLORADO, USA — A statewide grand jury returned a 90-count indictment last month against five people accused of stealing nearly a million dollars worth of cars and property as part of an auto theft and burglary crime ring that operated in Denver metro area counties for more than a year.
Nathaniel Tsosie, Craig Keltner, Justin Jameson, Andrea Wettig and Dustin James are accused of working with one another and others to steal motor vehicles and burglarize storage units to steal their contents, including personal identifying and financial information, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said on Wednesday.
> The video above is about Colorado's auto theft epidemic.
According to Weiser, the crime ring operated between December 2019 and March 2021 in the following counties:
- Arapahoe County
- Douglas County
- Jefferson County
- Clear Creek County
- Weld County
The indictment includes various criminal charges including violating Colorado’s Organized Crime Control Act, first-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft, second-degree burglary, identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation and felony theft, as well as felony drug possession and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.
According to the grand jury indictment dated Dec. 15, the group used stolen identities to test drive vehicles from car dealerships and then never returned the vehicles. The vehicles were then sometimes used to commit other crimes, the indictment says.
The suspects are also accused of using stolen identities to open accounts at storage unit facilities and then use the access codes for these fraudulent accounts to enter facilities and burglarize units.
"They were repeatedly engaging in this conduct in an organized and systemic way, preying on businesses and hurting people in Colorado," Weiser said. "We are now in a position to hold them to account for those crimes."
The group typically obtained Identifying information and financial information from stolen mail, the indictment says.
Authorities recovered stolen property, stolen or fake identities, and stolen firearms from the stolen vehicles, as well as from storage units associated with the members of the enterprise.
The stolen property was sometimes pawned. The total value in losses was about $836,000 in stolen vehicles – 22 from car dealerships and one privately owned vehicle – and nearly $109,000 in stolen property from storage units and stolen checks.
One of the vehicles taken was a 2019 Ford Raptor worth $60,000. It was taken for a test drive Aug. 7, 2020, and never returned, the indictment says. Later that same night, employees of the dealership tracked it to a public storage lot.
The employees blocked the truck from leaving the lot and confronted the driver, who said he intended to return the pickup to the dealership, the indictment says.
Ultimately though, the driver turned over the truck and keys to the employees, who later found that the vehicle's appearance had been altered and there was damage estimated at $500.
In another incident, a stolen Audi was recovered near an ARC Thrift Store in Littleton. Inside, police found two dogs, which were taken to an animal shelter.
One of the suspects, Tsosie, later contacted the shelter about getting his dogs back, the indictment says.
Tsosie is accused of impersonating a Denver Police officer in an effort to get items back that were inside a stolen car that was recovered. According to the indictment, on Dec. 1, 2020, an Audi stolen from Key Auto was recovered. Four days later on Dec. 5, Tsosie went to that dealership claiming to be a Denver Police officer and asked about items recovered in the car, the indictment says. Video shows him inside the store appearing to display a law enforcement badge, according to the document.
In one case, a couple mailed a check from a residential mailbox for $33,584.18 to a Colorado company for a home remodel. Tsosie later used his own photo ID but a fake name to cash the check at a Money Tree location, the indictment says.
According to the indictment, six days before Tsosie cashed the check, a business was registered on the Secretary of State's website with the same name as the Colorado company that the check was written to.
Funds gained from the criminal activity might have been used to fund inmate accounts for members of the enterprise who were incarcerated and to possibly post their bonds, the indictment says.
Tsosie is in the Jefferson County jail. Keltner, Wettig and James are in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and Jameson is in the custody of the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
Keltner, Weddig and Jameson are serving prison sentences for crimes connected to the pattern of racketeering activity alleged in the indictment.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the monetary value of the stolen property.
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