A onetime towing operator has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for plucking three dozen — and possibly more than 125 — abandoned vehicles from along Twin Cities roadsides and then selling them for scrap.

The Friday sentencing of James C. Jennings, 51, of St. Paul, to 3¾ years in prison includes an order to pay nearly $75,000 in restitution to the victims of his crimes.Police first snared Jennings on May 1, 2014, in Coon Rapids, after he used a flatbed truck to steal a “bait car” that was under police surveillance along Hwy. 610 near East River Road, according to authorities. A second vehicle on the truck at that time recently had been stolen in Blaine.

Jennings was arrested May 8, 2014, at his east metro office, where he operated Auto Assist Towing and Repair, and was charged with conspiracy to commit auto theft.

Investigators said they later learned that Jennings had sold 143 mostly older and well-worn vehicles for scrap in the four months before he was arrested to Alter Metal Recycling in Anoka.

The vehicles probably netted between $300 and $600 each, police said. They were stolen from many cities, among them St. Paul, Coon Rapids, Brooklyn Park and Blaine.

Jennings’ criminal history in Minnesota spans more than a quarter-century, with convictions including check forgery, theft and fifth-degree assault.

PAUL WALSH