For four years, the man, Nathan Rodney Nelson, 46, acted at night, stealing carts from golf courses and driving them to a getaway vehicle, prosecutors said. Then his phone number gave him away.
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A man who admitted to stealing or trying to steal 84 golf carts across several states in an effort to solve his financial troubles was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in prison, the authorities in North Dakota said.
According to a sentencing memorandum filed by his lawyer this month, the man, Nathan Rodney Nelson, 46, came up with the idea to steal and sell golf carts while he was struggling to maintain his home inspection business.
From there, the authorities said, Mr. Nelson acted mostly at night, going to golf courses and stealing carts in pairs. According to an agreement under which he pleaded guilty last December in federal court in North Dakota to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property, he would use “common ignition keys to drive the golf carts from the courses onto a trailer.” The agreement did not explain how he had obtained the keys.
Mr. Nelson ran the theft operation for about four years, from 2017 to 2021, selling golf carts he had taken from golf courses in states including Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, according to the plea agreement and a June 2021 affidavit filed by an F.B.I. agent, who wrote that Mr. Nelson had stolen at least 70 carts.
Mr. Nelson often sold the golf carts under an alias, Mason Weber, on Craigslist or on Facebook Marketplace, according to court records. He sometimes crossed state lines to make a sale.
Mr. Nelson usually sold the carts for $2,500, though they were often worth at least $5,000, according to the plea agreement. The thefts cost his victims a total of around $222,000.
The F.B.I. had been investigating him since July 2019 after a North Dakota sheriff’s office asked for assistance when it realized the string of thefts might be connected, according to the affidavit.
Mr. Nelson’s scheme unraveled in August 2020 when his phone number gave him away, according to the affidavit.
He had kept eight stolen golf carts at a self-storage facility in Illinois under his alias, according to the affidavit. A sheriff’s office there discovered that the phone number associated with the alias was the same number that belonged to Mr. Nelson.
The authorities tied him to several interstate golf cart sales before he was arrested at a gym in Florida in March 2021, according to the affidavit.
His two-year sentence includes credit for time he has already spent in prison. A federal judge ordered him on Tuesday to “forfeit” around $222,000 in cash.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of North Dakota did not immediately return emails or phone calls on Tuesday.
After Mr. Nelson’s guilty plea in United States District Court in North Dakota in December, seven other charges he had faced — one count of transportation of a motor vehicle and six counts of sale or possession of stolen motor vehicles — were dismissed, according to the sentencing memorandum.
It was unclear why Mr. Nelson trafficked in golf carts, but his lawyer, Lorelle A. Moeckel, wrote in the sentencing memorandum that her client “was lured by the idea of quick easy cash and made a very poor choice, which he deeply regrets.”
Ms. Moeckel declined to comment on Tuesday.
Once he came up with the golf cart scheme, Ms. Moeckel wrote in the memorandum, “it became easier and easier for him to stray from his long held moral compass.”