Skid-steer loader seized from business 17 months after purchase
ELLENDALE, N.D. — An Ellendale woman hopes others can avoid problems that she had after purchasing a skid-steer loader in good faith which was later determined to have been stolen.
Kristi Gilbert, who owns Unique Automotive Collision Center in Ellendale with her husband, Michael, said the loader they had purchased in March 2013 was not reported stolen until December 2013. It was recently seized by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
“When I bought the machine it was not stolen,” Gilbert said. “I ran it through the database for liens or stolen items and it came back clear.”
Unique Automotive Collision Center does body work on cars and trucks that have been in accidents and builds and restores custom vehicles for sale. The Gilberts purchased a New Holland LS190 skid-steer loader to move snow and do other chores around the shop from Ringdahl Motors in West Fargo.
But before they made the purchase, the loader had been stolen even if the crime was unreported. Police reports from Blue Bell, Pa., allege that Joel Vandewettering, 43, Aston, Pa., stole the loader and sold it through eBay.
Vandewettering was apprehended in December 2013, in possession of eight loaders. During questioning by the Whitpain and West Goshen townships’ police departments, he identified a number of loaders he had stolen previously — including the New Holland that had already been in North Dakota for several months and purchased by the Gilberts.
Chief Mark Smith of the Whitpain Township Police Department said the owner of the loader did not know it had been stolen.
“It was a company with multiple sites that were not used on a regular basis,” Smith said. “They did an inventory and confirmed it was missing. We made them produce paperwork indicating they were the rightful owner.”
It is unknown how the loader got from Blue Bell, Pa., to North Dakota. Kent Ringdahl, owner of Ringdahl Motors, said he purchased it from another legitimate dealer.
“I think there were two or three people who possessed the loader before me,” he said. “The dealer we got it from is not the guilty party in this.”
Smith agreed, saying officers suspected many of the loaders were sold multiple times after being stolen.
Once officers determined the New Holland loader was stolen, they traced it to Ringdahl Motors and to Unique Automotive Collision Center.
In January, a deputy with the Dickey County Sheriff’s Office checked the serial number and told the Gilberts it may be stolen, Kristi Gilbert said.
“We told them we were good-faith purchasers,” she said. “We told them the machine was not going anywhere.”
On Aug. 5, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation officers came to the Gilberts’ business with a search warrant and seized the loader.
“BCI treated us like we were dumb and we were thieves,” Gilbert said. “We had customers in the shop. Our kids were here when the BCI agents came in.”
Liz Brocker, media relations spokesman for the North Dakota Attorney General’s office and Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said the agencies couldn’t comment on the case because of the ongoing investigation.
Gilbert said they had put about $5,000 in parts into repairing the loader. That included new tires, hoses and a bucket. She said it is unclear if they can recover those costs.
“The BCI still has our bucket and tires,” Gilbert said. “We feel due process did not happen.”
Gilbert referred to the BCI officers as a “mass” and said she initially feared they were there to notify her of bad news concerning family members. She said the officers were rude and when Michael moved to the loader to remove the bucket, “(the BCI) treated him as if he pulled a gun.”
Gilbert praised Ringdahl Motors for refunding the purchase price after the loader was seized.
“It was very troubling,” Kent Ringdahl said. “We ran the serial number. We did everything we normally do. Now, a year and a half later, we find out it was stolen. It is what it is. We’d do the same thing today.”
Vandewettering, the man who allegedly stole the loader, has been charged with 13 felony 2 charges, punishable by up to 10 years in prison on each charge, and one misdemeanor 1 punishable by up to five years in prison, according to records of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Pa. He is free on $10,000 bail with no court dates scheduled at this time. The charges all relate to theft of moveable property, receiving stolen property and altering official documents.
Gilbert said they are unsure how to proceed but wanted people to know this could happen to them. She wants people to be aware of potential problems although she took all possible precautions.
“It’s been frustrating because there’s been no one to protect us,” she said. “We don’t know the ‘what now.’ There have been too many good things in our life to fight this. If I can help one person it would help me feel better though.”
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org