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Graf convicted of theft of vehicle he was hired to repair

WILLMAR — A jury convicted a Litchfield man of stealing a classic car he had been hired to restore.

Richard James Graf, 44, had been charged with two counts of felony theft stemming from the disappearance of the vehicle. He was found guilty Tuesday in Kandiyohi County District Court of one felony count of theft — taking or driving a motor vehicle without the owner's consent. The jury acquitted Graf of a second charge of felony theft.

The theft conviction carries a maximum sentence of five years and/or a $10,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 15.

According to court documents, Graf agreed to restore a 1968 Torino GT convertible in February 2015 and the vehicle was delivered to Graf's business, Custom Graf X Auto Customizing in Willmar.

The owner of the vehicle, who purchased the car for $2,500 off eBay, sent Graf a series of checks totalling $19,350, along with parts purchased off the internet, to go toward the restoration work.

After requesting updates throughout 2015 on the car's progress and receiving none from Graf, the owner of the car hired a lawyer, who also demanded Graf send evidence of the work being done on the car or give the car and parts back to the owner, documents said.

The car was viewed in April 2016, but it seemed to have had little work completed on it, documents said. That was the last time the owner or his lawyer saw the vehicle.

In October 2016, Graf threatened to sell the car and parts after the owner again asked for a progress update, the court documents said. The owner's lawyer then demanded Graf turn over the car and parts back to the owner.

Court files said that in December 2016, Graf's business was evicted from its Willmar location.

The owner's lawyer demanded Graf leave the car and the parts in the vacated premises and demanded that he not transfer ownership of the car or parts to anyone else. However, the car was not found at the business' location and the lawyer demanded Graf reveal the car's location. Graf did not respond, court documents said.

When the charges were filed in March 2017, the location of the car was still unknown.