A Thief River Falls man has been charged after he was allegedly driving a stolen van Monday in rural Thief River Falls.
Days earlier, he had stolen the van from a location elsewhere in rural Thief River Falls. The license plates hadn’t been removed from the van.
Benjamin Francis Bren, 42, has been charged with felony vehicle theft and gross misdemeanor driving after cancellation – inimical to public safety. He was arrested.
The charges stemmed from a report Sunday afternoon that a van had been stolen outside of 15244 Douglas Ave., according to the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office report and the criminal complaint.
It was believed that the 2005 Pontiac Montana had been stolen between Friday, April 9, and Saturday, April 10. A sheriff’s deputy stopped Bren, who was allegedly driving the van Monday on Highway 59 in rural Thief River Falls. While he waited for confirmation that the license plate matched the license plate of the stolen van, he followed the motorist.
Once that confirmation was made, the deputy conducted a traffic stop after Bren parked the van in a yard at 13886 184th Ave. N.E. He initially denied knowing the van had been stolen and identified a woman who had given him permission to drive the van.
Surveillance video also allegedly depicted Bren stealing the van the prior weekend. His phone contained numerous text messages to others referring to the stolen van. Bren allegedly told a deputy that the woman asked him to take the van even though he knew she didn’t have permission to take the van belonging to another man with whom the woman once lived.
The woman allegedly told the deputy that she didn’t give Bren permission to take the van, but he knew that she had left the keys inside of it. The woman hasn’t been charged in connection with the theft.
When reporting the theft Sunday, the owner said he believed that the woman had taken the van without his permission as she had in the past. The owner had recently told the woman that she couldn’t drive the van anymore. He told a sheriff’s deputy that the property manager had a surveillance video of the vehicle theft and the video would be available the following day.
On Monday, the deputy watched the surveillance video, which allegedly depicted a vehicle stop near the van. It appeared that a man and woman were inside. The man got out after speaking to someone else, and the two men entered the van owner’s apartment. The two men left a short time later. An hour later, one of the men returned and appeared to look under the hood of the van. He was talking on a cell phone at the time.
The man, later identified as Bren, then left the parking lot without turning on the headlights. The owner identified one of the men by a first name other than Brens. He said he didn’t know the other man.
They had gone to the home to obtain the woman’s belongings, but the man re-fused to give them her belongings until the woman had returned the keys to his van. A short argument ensued, and the men left. Sometime after that interview, another deputy conducted the traffic stop. At the time of his arrest, Bren allegedly possessed a marijuana vaporizer with two capsules of juice as well as suspected marijuana wax and a pipe. The van was then towed to the city impound lot.
Bren provided a statement to a deputy Tuesday. He allegedly said the woman had given him the van keys. She told the deputy that she hadn’t provided her permission, but Bren knew that she had left the keys in the van. She identified him as the man stealing the van in the video.
A search warrant was soon executed for Bren’s cell phone. Bren provided the deputy with the passcode. After being asked again if he had anything to say, Bren allegedly asked if the deputy would have still had to look at his cell phone if he spoke with the deputy.
The deputy said he couldn’t make that decision at that point in time. However, Bren continued to speak with the deputy. During the second portion of his statement, Bren allegedly said the woman had asked him to take the van. Bren got a ride to the man’s apartment and took the van even though he realized that the woman also didn’t have permission to take it.
Upon downloading the contents of Bren’s cell phone, the deputy allegedly observed many text messages in which Bren referred to the stolen van. The complaint indicated that Bren’s driver’s license had been cancelled as well.