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St. Paul police get international award for cracking stolen vehicle case

More than 220 stolen vehicles were identified, and 16 suspects already have pleaded guilty or were found guilty.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has given St. Paul police an award for an investigation that cracked a major stolen car operation in the metro area.

St. Paul received a 2012 Vehicle Theft Award of Merit from the group this week for uncovering the scheme to steal vehicles and then turn them into scrap metal, often before the owners knew about the loss.

Police officials say they began the investigation after noting  a big increase in report car thefts in 2011.

They found that many larger vehicles, like vans, were being identified by spotters, who then called in tow trucks to haul them away to a Twin Cities area scrap-processing facility that didn’t check for ownership.

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Sometimes, the vehicles were broken into and driven directly to the scrap yard.

Two St. Paul police employees — Assistant Chief Kathy Wuorinen and Executive Commander Ken Reed — picked up the award at the Chiefs group’s conference in San Diego. 

Police say the case was solved using “criminal data analysis, cooperation of various jurisdictions within the Saint Paul Police Department, work with outside organizations such as the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the aggressive prosecution of those suspects believed to be involved in the scheme.”

They say vehicle thefts in the city have dropped 10 percent because of the investigation, which identified at least 226 stolen vehicles.

Sixteen suspects have pleaded guilty of been convicted at trial, and two more are awaiting trial, they said.