Two car thieves were sentenced Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court for stealing retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Donald Klein’s classic 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air and 1966 Chevrolet El Camino from a barn on his Kerman-area farm around Veterans Day 2015.
Thomas Leo Cummings Jr., 35, faced as much as nine years and four months in prison, but under a plea agreement with Judge James Kelley he was sentenced to five years after pleading no contest to two felony counts of unlawful taking of a vehicle.
The other defendant, Jennifer Maxine Carlton, 38, of Kerman, also pleaded no contest to two counts of unlawful taking of a vehicle as well as burglary, identity theft and possession of stolen property. She was sentenced to 16 months in the Fresno County Jail and 16 months of supervised release.
Thomas Leo Cummings Jr. received the stiffer sentence because he admitted to having several previous convictions, including for robbery in 2001.
Cummings received the stiffer sentence because he admitted to having several previous convictions, including for robbery in 2001.
Klein’s classic cars were stolen the night before Veterans Day. The Fresno HEAT Team (Help Eliminate Auto Theft), a task force made up of deputies from the Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol officers, went undercover, posing as people interested in buying the cars from the suspects to get them back.
The unit was successful in recovering both cars and returned them to their owner a week and a half after they were stolen, the District Attorney’s Office said.
At a news conference in November, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said the suspects stole the cars after cutting a lock off the barn. Mims called it a crime of opportunity since Carlton and Cummings couldn’t see into the barn to know what was inside.
“We don’t believe they were looking for classic cars specifically,” Mims said. “They were looking for something to steal.”
The turquoise and white 1956 Bel Air was found in rural Fresno County, and the dark blue 1966 El Camino was found in the Mayfair neighborhood in central Fresno.
The turquoise and white Bel Air was found in rural Fresno County, and the dark blue El Camino was found in the Mayfair neighborhood in central Fresno. The El Camino ignition was ripped apart. Klein said he might have left the Bel Air keys on the floorboard.
CHP officers washed fingerprint dust from the cars before giving them back to Klein and his wife, Faith.
Cummings will be eligible for early release from prison in 2 1/2 years pursuant to the “Non-Violent” Second Strike Release Program, prosecutors said.