Ronald Metzger, a veteran local tow truck operator, pleaded guilty Thursday to felony stolen-property charges linked to the thefts of 82 vehicles in recent years.
Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio agreed to sentence him to prison for 2 1/3 to 7 years on March 26. DiTullio had been set to begin jury selection Monday in Metzger's trial on his indictment last June on 35 stolen-property charges and 33 false-instrument charges.
Prosecutor Paul J. Glascott said he worked the case with the State Police and police from Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Lancaster, the state Department of Motor Vehicles, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the state Insurance Fraud Bureau and the district attorney's office.
Glascott agreed to let Metzger, 50, enter a pretrial guilty plea to four stolen-property charges in return for the mandatory prison term.
Metzger, who already is behind bars, did not give details on his systematic thefts of parked cars. He sold them to a Town of Lancaster auto dismantling concern, whose owners cooperated with authorities during an 18-month probe of Metzger's operation.
Metzger, who operated as WNY Auto Recovery and lived on Farmingdale Road in Cheektowaga, pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree criminal possession of stolen property and three counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.
Glascott said Metzger, who reportedly cleared between $500,000 to almost $1 million in selling the cars to the auto dismantler, routinely used fake certificates of title.
The vehicles were stolen from parking lots and streets in Buffalo and Cheektowaga primarily from the summer of 2003 until late 2004. No vehicles were recovered.
More than three dozen of the dismantled vehicles were found during police raids on the Lancaster dismantling concern in March and April 2005. Insurance companies might have recovered some of their losses on the vehicles through salvage sales, Glascott said.
The probe of Metzger's operation was sparked by the discovery of stolen parts on a car examined by a state investigator two years ago. The prosecutors said state DMV investigator Shawn Yost contacted police in March 2005 after confirming that a vehicle he examined had parts from one stolen from the Hampton Inn lot on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga a few months earlier.