A 26-year-old man is accused of stealing seven cars in the Billings area that he drove around for a few days before dumping them.
Vincent Lee Annable, 26, told a Billings Police Department detective that he stole seven vehicles — a 1993 Honda sedan, a 1991 Ford F150, a 2002 Dodge R2500, a 2006 Mercury Mountaineer SUV, a 1988 Ford F250, a 2000 Ford F350 and a 1990s Honda Accord.
Annable, who was booked into the Yellowstone County Detention Facility on June 21, appeared in Yellowstone County Justice Court on Wednesday, facing eight charges of felony theft.
Felony theft carries a fine of up to $50,000 and or up to 10 years in prison.
The string of thefts began in late April when a brown 1993 Honda sedan was stolen from the parking lot of Homewood Suites on the 3000 block of Ember Lane. A woman had borrowed a car from someone she knew, and one morning when she was getting ready to take her kids to school she saw the car was missing, according to court documents.
On May 7, the 1993 Honda sedan was found with its rear license plate missing in the parking lot of the Anytime Fitness at 24th Street West and Broadwater Avenue. Officers ran the front license plate and learned the car had been reported stolen.
Security footage from Anytime Fitness showed a male in a black hoodie and black pants drop off the vehicle on April 30 at about 9 p.m. After getting out of the car, the person took the rear license plate off and threw it under the car. An orange sports car then picked up the suspect, according to court documents.
More than two weeks later the orange sports car was spotted by an officer on patrol and identified as a Mitsubishi Eclipse with fake license plates. One of the people inside was identified as Miranda Grotbo, according to court documents. Later that day the Mitsubishi was found parked in the driveway of a residence on the 2500 block of Yellowstone Avenue. No one answered when a police officer knocked on the door of the home. Minutes later, the officer, who had parked his car down the block, saw a white man leave the home on a bicycle. An officer talked with the man, Annable, who said Grotbo was not home.
Two days later Grotbo told an officer she sometimes would pick Annable up in parking lots, but she didn't know he was "stealing or dropping off stolen vehicles," according to court documents.
Next came a string of reported thefts from June 12 through June 17, in which most of the missing cars turned up a few days later.
On June 17, police found several stolen vehicles in an alleyway behind the 200 block of Terry Avenue. Annable was seen in the stolen cars by a witness, and police spoke with him before releasing him "because the stolen vehicles investigation was ongoing." Some of the cars were stolen after they were left unattended for as little as 30 minutes.
Police used surveillance footage, interviews, evidence collection, fingerprinting and a photo lineup to investigate connections between Annable and the car thefts. One car's owner said his credit card, which was left in his stolen vehicle, was used for two unauthorized purchases: $91.98 at Famous Footwear and another purchase that didn't go through at Tesla Cellular Repair.
On June 19, police interviewed a person who knew Annable, who said he rode around in the stolen Honda with Grotbo and Annable on the night of April 28. He said Annable told him not to touch anything so he wouldn't leave fingerprints "because the car was stolen." They dropped that car off at Anytime Fitness, where Grotbo and Annable stole another truck, and the group then went to gamble at the Red Door, the person told police.
The person also said Grotbo helped Annable steal cars and other items for drug money. He said "the couple has serious drugs and gambling habits." Annable and Grotbo "just use the stolen cars to drive around in," he said.
He also said Annable's method involved stealing bicycles, repainting them and then riding them around looking for opportunities to steal cars. Another suspected car thief said Annable gave him a "bump key," or a key shaved down to fit into multiple cars.
Annable's bond was set Thursday at $75,000, and he was assigned a public defender. He is scheduled to appear before District Court Judge Rod Souza on Aug. 11 at 9:30 a.m.
The investigation into Grotbo's involvement and unauthorized credit card use is ongoing.