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Florida man sentenced to two years for stealing golf cart

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Nathan Nelson saw his home inspection business flounder in 2017 and bills increase.

Then, he had an idea he thought could save him: stealing golf carts, according to court records.

For the next four years, Nelson hopscotched across the Midwest and Southeast, taking them from rural golf courses into the dead of night, court records show. He then sold the carts through websites such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

Then, last June, prosecutors said Nelson’s scheme fell apart when he was arrested in Georgia trying to rob a golf cart service business.

Nelson, a 45-year-old Florida resident, was sentenced to two years in prison on Tuesday after pleading guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property, a felony. A federal judge in North Dakota also ordered Nelson to pay a total of $13,713 in restitution for several of the courses he sought and forfeit $222,736 to the federal government. Under his plea agreement, the judge dismissed the other eight charges against him.

Nelson’s attorney, Lorelle Moeckel, did not immediately respond to a Washington Post request for comment Wednesday night. But in court documents filed earlier this month, Moeckel said his client takes full responsibility for the theft of the golf carts. Over the years, she said, Nelson repeatedly told himself after a robbery that it would be his last – until it wasn’t, and he decided to steal again.” to alleviate his financial problems.

“He was attracted to the idea of ​​easy, quick money and made a very bad choice,” Moeckel said, adding that Nelson lacked confidence, mainly due to a stutter which affected his ability to communicate.

Nelson began his scheme in June 2017 and continued until his arrest, federal prosecutors said. Often under the alias “Mason Weber”, Nelson stole or attempted to steal approximately 84 golf carts on courses spanning thousands of miles, including those in North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, of Ohio and Georgia, according to court records. He succeeded at least 70 of those attempts, authorities said.

After stealing the carts, which he began using a universal key, Nelson would lead them away from the course lodges to nearby locations where he had organized an escape vehicle, according to court records. In several thefts, he used a Penske moving truck he had rented, authorities said. FBI agents then used the Penske truck’s GPS tracker to link it to golf courses in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, all of which had reported thefts.

Prosecutors said Nelson unloaded the carts, worth $5,000 or more, for about half of what they were worth. He told a buyer he had access to a steady supply of inexpensive golf carts because his wife worked for a company that rented them out, court records show.

FBI agents interviewed one of Nelson’s buyers who, as of 2019, purchased between 20 and 30 carts. The man had four more and let officers inspect them. He also gave them a collection of score pencils he had found over the years. Marked with names of golf courses, the pencils linked Nelson to businesses he hit, officials said.

On June 11, sheriff’s deputies in Seminole County, Georgia discovered Nelson trying to steal carts from Dixie Sales and Service, which performs maintenance work on golf carts, authorities said. When they searched it, deputies reportedly found golf cart keys, pre-printed tags with fake serial numbers and ‘burglary tools’. He also had two pieces of identification, both with his photo: a Florida driver’s license with his real name and one from Iowa for “Mason Weber,” according to the records.

It was the end of a four-year scheme that turned into a multi-state conspiracy that spanned half the country and involved golf carts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, authorities said. Until then, his lawyer said, Nelson had been a law-abiding citizen. Then came the money problems and a plan to solve them by stealing “a few golf carts”.

“[F]From there, it became easier and easier for him to deviate from his longstanding moral compass,” Moeckel said.