Hennepin County jurors convicted a West St. Paul man on Saturday of two counts of identity theft, then resumed deliberations on Monday and concluded that he was a career criminal.

That determination could result in a "tough sentence," according to Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the county attorney's office.

Prosecutors will ask that Donald Allen Ellis, 56, receive a 20-year sentence, the maximum, Laszewski said. Judge Kerry Meyer set sentencing for Oct. 1.

Ellis was arrested in February by county sheriff's detectives and charged with conducting a large-scale crime operation that involved credit card fraud, theft and counterfeit checks. He had been out on bail on similar ID theft charges.

Ellis was accused of breaking into cars across the metro area and stealing credit cards. Assistant County Attorney Diane Krenz said he then went to stores such as Target and bought gift cards.

Ellis also recruited accomplices, including drug abusers and homeless people, to buy the gift cards with stolen credit cards, Krenz said. If he was caught using the gift cards, "He could say, 'I didn't do it,'" she said.

Laszewski wrote in a news release that Ellis was caught in October during a routine traffic stop by Minneapolis-St. Paul airport police. The driver did not have a valid driver's license, and Ellis was in the back seat. The car was impounded, and when police searched the vehicle, they found a purse belonging to a woman who had reported it stolen from her car two days before.

The Sheriff's Office interviewed the driver, and she explained her role in the scheme. Dozens of victims were located. Authorities then searched Ellis' house and found numerous credit cards, checks, driver's licenses and other evidence, according to Laszewski.

Each charge for which Ellis was found guilty required eight or more victims. The jury found him guilty of being a career criminal and that he committed crimes with three or more people, which could add to his sentence.

The jury began deliberations Friday, found him guilty on Saturday morning, then returned on Monday to complete deliberations, Laszewski said.

Ellis has a criminal history dating to the 1980s. In 2004, he was arrested for stealing cars, purses and forged checks totaling more than $5 million over 10 years, and for operating a crime ring in which he was the alleged kingpin. Ellis pleaded guilty to check forgery and theft by swindle and spent two years in prison.

He was arrested on identity theft charges filed in 2010, which were updated last July, when Ellis was accused of breaking into cars and stealing purses in eight metro communities in 2009 and 2010.

In a statement Monday, County Attorney Mike Freeman hailed the jury verdict.

"Criminals like Donald Ellis make it easy for prosecutors to ask a jury to determine he is a career criminal and then to seek the highest penalty possible," Freeman said. "He has spent 40 years stealing credit cards, debit cards, checks and driver's licenses and then posing as the victims. He has left a long trail of innocent people who had to spend hours canceling accounts and watching their credit cards. Society won't miss him."

Star Tribune staff writers Nicole Norfleet and Anthony Lonetree contributed to this report. Randy Furst • 612-673-4224