The theft of a tomato led police to the alleged culprits involved in the theft of more than $40,000 worth of equipment -- including a collection of deer, bear and walleye mounts -- from a state Department of Natural Resources building in St. Paul earlier this month.

Timothy K. Heidenreich, 39, of St. Paul, was charged Thursday in Ramsey County District Court with one count of third-degree burglary. Terry K. Cotton, 37, and Shane J. Rylander, 40, both of St. Paul, were charged with possession of stolen property. Both were ordered to appear in court March 7.

According to the criminal complaints and other court documents:

St. Paul police learned on Jan. 10 that someone had broken into the DNR's metro storage facility on Warner Road and stolen outboard motors, power tools, chain saws, computers, trailer ramps and 19 animal and fish mounts. The mounts were part of the DNR's "Wall of Shame," a traveling exhibit of poached wildlife meant to encourage people to follow hunting regulations.

That same day, a deputy allegedly saw Heidenreich snatch a tomato from the cafeteria at the Washington County Courthouse in Stillwater. Heidenreich was arrested after he gave the deputy a fake ID. He was charged Jan. 11 with gross-misdemeanor and misdemeanor counts of giving an officer a false name.

While Heidenreich was in the Washington County jail, he called Cotton and told him about a van parked near his house "loaded with goods." He told Cotton to sell the power tools and computers to get money for bail and to "keep some of the items for his services," the complaint said.

He told Cotton: "It's like Christmas in there."

Later, an informant told St. Paul police that Heidenreich was storing the animal mounts and tools at a house in the 700 block of Conway Street, where Cotton and Heidenreich's girlfriend lived.

Police put the house under surveillance and saw Rylander and another man taking power tools from the back yard and loading them into a van. Rylander told police that Cotton had told him the tools were there and that he had paid Cotton $150 for two Stihl chain saws, a Stihl leaf blower, a Stihl branch trimmer and a Dewalt power tool kit. He said he knew the tools were stolen, according to authorities.

Police searched the Conway Street house on Jan. 13 and found most of the other DNR equipment.

Cotton later told investigators that Heidenreich came to his house on Jan. 9 in a van and carried "items with fur" toward the back of house. He told Cotton he'd "made a big score of tools, boat motors and mounts," the complaint said. "Heidenreich said the mounts were worth thousands and he was going to keep the bear mount."

Heidenreich has a lengthy history of theft, burglary, drug and driving offenses stretching over the past 20 years. He is currently serving time at St. Cloud prison for a theft conviction in Kanabec County.

Cotton has been convicted of robbery, check forgery, selling marijuana and domestic assault in the past. Rylander has mostly driving offenses on his record.

Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992