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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- To clear the way for possible federal charges, western Nebraska prosecutors dropped all charges Wednesday against two car dealership executives accused of stealing more than 80 vehicles off their own Scottsbluff car lot.
Scottsbluff County's Chief Deputy County Attorney John Childress said he didn't want to proceed with next week's scheduled trial of Rachel Fait and Allen Patch before the U.S. Attorney's office decides whether to file charges.
Fait, Patch and another Legacy Auto Group executive were arrested in March on suspicion of theft and title fraud after the missing cars and trucks, worth more than $2.5 million, were found in Utah, Wyoming, Las Vegas and Scottsbluff.
The dismissal of the case was welcomed by the defendants.
"My client is relieved and very excited," Fait's lawyer, Audrey Elliott, said to KNEB-AM.
Patch's lawyer, Dave Eubanks did not respond Wednesday to a message from The Associated Press.
Given that the case involves witnesses and evidence from four different states, Childress said federal prosecutors may be better suited to handle it.
"I just didn't want to pursue a trial if there was a possibility of a federal prosecution because they get pretty good outcomes," Childress said.
But Childress said he would likely refile state charges if the U.S. Attorney decides not to pursue it. The state statute of limitations in the case is three years, so Childress said the delay should not be a problem.
Earlier this fall, prosecutors dropped all charges against Rick Covello because he said he wanted to prosecute Fait and Patch first. Childress said at the time that he believed Patch and Fait were primarily responsible for the thefts, so he wanted to try them first.
At the time of their arrest, the dealership executives said they were simply liquidating their inventory because the Legacy Auto dealership was struggling and in the process of being sold.
But Toyota Financing reported the cars stolen because the executives had not notified Toyota about the plan to sell the vehicles.
At the time, Toyota representatives told police that it appeared the Legacy Auto executives were attempting to convert the cars into cash.
And prosecutors said the executives' explanation didn't seem to make sense because Patch and Legacy Auto would have lost a substantial amount of money if they had paid off Toyota after selling the cars because of the costs involved and the amount owed.
The Legacy Auto dealership has since been sold to Wyoming-based Fremont Motors.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)