First of bait-car cases prosecuted quickly

The first in a series of auto theft cases stemming from police use of bait cars ended with a guilty plea in 38 days.

“It’s kind of hard to explain what you’re doing in a stolen car that doesn’t belong to you,” said Deputy District Attorney Jason Conley, who prosecuted one of the cases, involving 35-year-old Jerod Ian Slates.

Since the bait vehicles were deployed in February, five people have been arrested in connection with the anti-car-theft initiative by the Western Colorado Auto Theft Task Force. To date, none of the cases has brought a legal challenge of the practice of law enforcement deploying unlocked vehicles along Grand Valley streets, with keys inside in plain view. Authorities track the vehicles with Global Positioning System devices, and the engines can be shut down by officers remotely.

“I think Slates may have thought there were some possible entrapment issues, but at the same time it was pretty clear to his attorney those issues didn’t exist,” Conley said. “I could see those arguments if you’re targeting a specific individual or a subsection of individuals in a certain part of town.”

In Slates’ case, he told officers he was driving a stolen Chevrolet Tahoe on March 12 to a relative’s home, where it could be salvaged for parts, according to an arrest affidavit. Slates’ lone prior encounter with law enforcement was a ticket for providing alcohol to a minor.

“It was a strange case ... a pretty intelligent guy who had a good job,” Conley said. “I have no idea why he did it.”

Slates was sentenced to a two-year deferred judgment after pleading guilty April 19 to first-degree aggravated motor-vehicle theft.

GPS devices on a stolen motorcycle led officers on May 26 to a sport utility vehicle owned by James Kelso, 31, less than a mile from where authorities left the motorcycle in the 2600 block of U.S. Highway 50, an arrest affidavit said. The motorcycle, which was found in the back of Kelso’s SUV, had been left at the Highway 50 location three days earlier, the affidavit said.

On May 23, Benjamin Tomasi, 25, was arrested as the driver of a bait vehicle after officers remotely disabled its engine on Kennedy Avenue between 14th and 15th streets, an affidavit said.

Victor Espino, 21, and Jerardo Moreno, 20, were arrested May 30 on suspicion they took a bait vehicle that also had been left by authorities in the 2600 block of U.S. Highway 50, affidavits said.


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