ELKHART — Purchase records, pistachio shells and a pair of sneakers were used to tie a Nappanee man jailed on an auto theft charge to other thefts that happened late last year.
Justin Lambert, 34, was arrested July 18 and charged with auto theft and resisting law enforcement resulting in injury, both Level 6 felonies. He was also charged with theft of property, a Class A misdemeanor.
He is being held in the Elkhart County Correctional Facility on $100,000 bond. In the order authorizing his arrest, the judge observed that he was out on bond at the time awaiting trial on seven other charges, including two counts of burglary and two counts of theft.
Additional accusations were filed against him Wednesday and Thursday in four separate court cases. They include three counts of auto theft, a count of fraud and a count of resisting law enforcement in a vehicle.
All charges are Level 6 felonies, which carries a punishment of up to 2 1/2 years in prison.
According to court documents:
The oldest case, which charges Lambert with fraud, dates back to Oct. 9, 2018. An officer with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office responded to a Summit Park Drive residence about a potential burglary.
A woman at the residence had parked in the garage the night before but the garage door never closed and her vehicle was left unlocked. She discovered early in the morning that her driver’s license, debit card and the garage door opener were all taken from her vehicle.
On Oct. 11, the woman reported that her debit card had been used to make fraudulent purchases on Amazon.com. A sheriff’s detective later learned that tattoo needles, tube grips and a Chicago Blackhawks hooded sweatshirt had been purchased.
Personal information listed on the purchase lead the detective to Lambert. The detective also found footage of Lambert using an ATM at a Walmart store on Nov. 19, while wearing a black hooded Chicago Blackhawks sweatshirt.
The next alleged incident occurred Nov. 7. A man reported to Elkhart City Police that his white Ford truck had been stolen, and officers later learned that Lambert may have been the culprit.
A sheriff’s deputy was on patrol on Nov. 12 when he saw what he believed to be the stolen truck driving on C.R. 44. The patrolman tried to stop the vehicle but it continued to drive, turning north onto Clymer Street, west back onto C.R. 44 and then north onto U.S. 33.
The truck stopped after it hit a utility pole and then a vehicle that was parked in the driveway of a residence. The truck was empty when the patrolman approached it, but he found a cell phone and matched the license plate to the Ford that was reported stolen.
He also found a pair of blue-gray Chuck Taylor sneakers and a baseball cap inside the truck. He recognized the sneakers from security footage used in a previous burglary investigation, which showed Lambert wearing similar shoes.
A search warrant was obtained for the cellphone, which was found to have Lambert’s Facebook account open on it. The Indiana State Police lab analyzed DNA samples from the hat and found that they matched Lambert as well as two unknown, unrelated individuals.
Then on Nov. 20, sheriff’s officers responded to a home on U.S. 33 for a report of a stolen vehicle. The resident said his 1994 Jeep was taken from his driveway while he was at work.
The man contacted officers again on Nov. 24, saying a friend of his had found the Jeep. Deputies found multiple items in the vehicle that potentially contained DNA, including energy drink cans and pistachio shells.
The sheriff’s office received a call from a woman who said Lambert had told her he was in the back of a Jeep eating pistachios. Officers also learned that a woman in Tennessee had reported her cellphone stolen, and Lambert was the suspect.
A detective obtained security footage from Nov. 22 showing Lambert arrive at a hotel in a Jeep that matched the stolen vehicle, and wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey.
The energy drink cans were sent to the ISP lab for DNA analysis, and came back with a match for Lambert.
On Dec. 3, Goshen Police responded to an auto theft report at a Lippert factory. A white Ford van full of tools was reportedly taken from the property the day before.
Police obtained security footage showing a man enter the van and drive off in it.
Officers spotted a van matching the description later the same day and stopped it. The van was found to have the stereo missing and a rear window broken.
Lambert was behind the wheel. He told officers that an employee named Jesus had given him permission to take the vehicle in order to fix it.
But officers learned that the company has a different procedure for van repairs, and that no one named Jesus had access to the van.