Stillwater salesman found not guilty of stealing cars
Pioneer Press (Mpls.-St. Paul) - Newspaper of the Twin Cities
A former Stillwater car salesman is not to blame for 58 cars that "went missing," a Washington County District Court judge has ruled.Instead, she said, Jennings State Bank's sloppy banking practices were at fault.
Daniel Patrick Routson, 56, was charged in 2009 with a felony count of theft by swindle and two felony counts of intent to defraud involving the vehicles. District Judge Ellen Maas found Routson not guilty on all three counts.
In an order issued last week, Maas said records from Jennings State Bank accounted for all of the cars. Also, a review of the bank's and Routson's business records showed matching deposits, bills of sale and released title cards on all the cars that were sold.
But the bank didn't keep track of the sales, so the cars were considered missing, the judge's order said.
"Jennings is more a victim of its own sloppy banking practices," Maas stated.
The bank and Routson Automotive have since closed.
Details of the case come from the judge's order, issued after a January trial:
In 2004, Routson took out a $600,000 loan from Jennings bank. The principal later grew to $800,000. The bank loaned him 75 percent of the purchase price for each car. In return, Routson provided the bank with the title card and bill of sale for the financed cars.
Routson was obliged to make a loan payment each time a vehicle was sold.
Loan documents prohibited "the commingling of sale proceeds" with other funds. But Jennings only had one general operating account for Routson's business, where he made deposits and withdrawals.
In 2008, Routson told the bank he planned to liquidate his inventory and wanted to have a repayment plan.
Months later, Jennings notified the business that 58 vehicles were missing and contacted Stillwater police.
Routson offered police his financial records, but they never took them, the order said. Police also didn't interview the business' salesmen or bookkeeper.
The case was referred to the Washington County Attorney's Office for charging.
When Jennings bank closed in 2009 bank officials publicly blamed Routson's alleged auto thefts for the bank's demise.
At trial, Maas found that there was no evidence that Routson used the bank account for his personal gain. Also, nothing linked Routson to any of the car sales, which were handled by another salesman, with their proceeds deposited. Plus, customers never complained of issues with vehicle titles.
Routson's attorney, Earl Gray, said Monday, March 12, that for three years he tried to get the charges against his client dismissed, but the county attorney's office didn't drop them. Gray said he also tried to get all the evidence in the case from the prosecution for two years.
"The guy clearly was innocent and he had to go through a trial," Gray said.
Steve Povolny, first assistant Washington County attorney, said his office accepts the court's ruling in the case. He declined to comment more on specifics of the case, saying the charges were filed before he was employed with the county.
Maricella Miranda can be reached at 651-228-5421. Follow her at twitter.com/mariwritesnews.