Van stolen in Fla. found in Albert Lea; Iowa man arrested

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A 51-year-old man from Leland, Iowa, was charged with a felony Tuesday in Freeborn County District Court as a result of being caught allegedly driving an automobile reported stolen in Florida.

Jeffery Lee Gross was charged with one count of receiving stolen property. He was arrested on U.S. Highway 69 south of Albert Lea. He also was charged with driving without a valid license, a misdemeanor.

According to court records, at about 2:11 a.m. Tuesday, a Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office deputy was on patrol on Highway 69 when he saw a white 2005 Saturn van parked at Pickerel Lake Park near the boat landing.

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The deputy pulled into the park to check on the van and its occupants. Reports state dispatchers checked the license plate and found out that the van had been stolen from Florida.

The report said Gross was asleep inside the van.

When deputies asked Gross to step out of the van to speak, he reportedly refused and stated, “I don’t like people that lie.”

Based on several of Gross’ answers and demeanor to additional questions, one of the deputies informed the dispatchers that Gross “may be suffering from some mental illness issues,” the report stated.

Gross reportedly handed over various IDs to the deputies and told them the IDs were fake. They were of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop and Curly from “The Three Stooges,” according to court records. Gross also claimed to have been a “Cheryl Schroeder from South Carolina” and an “Allan Smith.”

When asked where he acquired the van, Gross reportedly told deputies “that he was walking along a road in Florida and a van appeared before his eyes in a dealer’s lot,” court records state. “Defendant went on to explain how the keys appeared in his hand and he decided to take it.”

He told authorities he had the van for about a week and had driven it all the way from Florida, according to reports.

During Gross’ first appearance on the charges on Tuesday, Freeborn County District Court Judge Steve Schwab approved an unconditional bail for Gross of $30,000 after hearing additional information about the man from Andrea Strom of Freeborn County Court Services.

Strom said the Winnebago County sheriff told her he has picked Gross up many times for driving-related offenses and Gross has failed to appear several times in court. He has been committed as mentally ill several times as well.

Gross identified himself with another name on paperwork and could not identify his address.

The stolen vehicle report on file stated the automobile had been left unlocked with the ignition key in the driver’s side door panel.

The van is valued at $7,500.

The charge of receiving stolen property carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 felony.

The charge of driving without a valid license, carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Gross will next appear in court at 1 p.m. April 19.