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Crime & Courts

A Mat-Su mechanic is accused of stealing nearly half a million dollars from scores of victims. That’s just this time.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story, based on information in court documents, described Charles Yingst as doing business under the name Bumper 2 Bumper Auto Repair in 2010. The business owner, Les Johnston, said the company is not connected to Yingst except that Johnston became one of his victims when Yingst wrote him a bad check.

PALMER — Each story starts out the same, to hear Charles Yingst's most recent alleged victims tell it.

Yingst, a talented 35-year-old mechanic with an address near Wasilla, does some work on a car or tracks down a piece of equipment. Maybe he asks for a loan.

Victims and court documents say the story ends the same, too: Yingst makes off with the borrowed money or steals the truck he was fixing.

A Palmer grand jury indicted Yingst last week on felony fraud and theft charges, reflecting accusations that he stole at least $340,000 from 17 people, with more victims coming forward now.

It's not the first time.

Yingst was convicted on felony fraud and theft charges in Fairbanks in 2006 and Palmer in 2011. Same situation: multiple victims, many thousands of dollars stolen. He was ordered to pay more than $71,000 in restitution in the Palmer case.

His victims say Yingst is a serial scammer and the system failed to stop him.

Cynthia Johnson of Palmer said Yingst took $45,000 from her and left her over $90,000 in the hole, counting stolen pickups.

"This guy here, Charles, he is very handsome, very tall, soft-spoken, a sweetheart. And he will suck you in," Johnson said. "I am 63 years old. I have never in my life encountered anybody like this. Ever."

Cynthia Johnson, a victim of fraud, poses in her living room in the Lazy Mountain area of Palmer, AK on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Close to home

Troopers arrested Yingst on Jan. 27 at the home he shares with his family in Meadow Lakes, near Wasilla on the Parks Highway.

As of Friday, he remained jailed at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility on $50,000 cash bail and release on an electronic monitor.

People who did business with Yingst described him as an unusual scammer whose friendly demeanor and stable living situation made him seem trustworthy.

Court documents indicate he operated under various company names — AK Inland, Bumper 2 Bumper Auto Repair — but also worked for other business owners who sometimes became victims themselves.

Christine Yingst, his wife, works at a health care business on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. She had no comment about his criminal charges when contacted there Wednesday.

Yingst has a court-appointed attorney. The Palmer public defender's office didn't return a call for comment.

Yingst is listed as the secretary of the board of directors for Blood n Fire Ministry of Alaska, a Wasilla-based Christian nonprofit that operates Knik House, a transitional living facility.

Blood n Fire representatives would not comment on the situation or say whether Yingst remains on the board.

'This consequence has no effect'

Yingst was still on probation when he was charged in the new fraud case last week.

His probation officer wrote an angry letter to the court referencing Yingst's prior convictions, all involving "defrauding people for hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The officer, Chris Evans, said he began getting almost daily calls from victims last year.

"The defendant does not seem to care what his actions result in for his victims or his own family," Evans wrote in a Jan. 26 affidavit supporting the revocation of Yingst's probation.

He urged the judge to impose "every second" of Yingst's sentence for violating probation: "He has proven this consequence has no effect on changing his behavior, but at least the public will not be a victim of his while he is incarcerated."

Evans didn't return a call for additional comment.

Troopers didn't open an investigation until October — nearly two months after Mike Blodgett first called to complain about Yingst.

Mike and Sue Blodgett, who are victims of fraud, pose in their The Alaska Woodshop near Wasilla, AK on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

No reason not to trust him

Blodgett met Yingst in December 2016 when Yingst worked on his Jeep.

Then the Blodgett home burned down and Blodgett needed his 1972 Ford pickup fixed to rebuild his log furniture business. He asked Yingst to do the job.

Blodgett paid Yingst $7,500 last June to ship up a multi-purpose tractor for his shop. Yingst asked for a $22,000 loan, Blodgett said. He gave that to him, too.

"For a grand total of $30,000, and all of this money was supposed to come back in 60 days," he said.

It never did, he said. The tractor didn't arrive either.

Money trail

Blodgett now says Yingst came up with all kinds of reasons for the delays: a federal investigation; equipment breakdowns; a hard-to-reach delivery guy.

Blodgett called the Port of Anchorage and a company Yingst said he was working with. Nobody recognized the name or the cargo.

"From there, I contacted the troopers," he said.

That was late in August, according to troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain. It wasn't until late October that a criminal investigation began.

Getting attention

Blodgett said he was twice told any action against Yingst would be a civil matter rather than a case prosecuted by the state.

Then Blodgett involved the state ombudsman, the office that investigates citizen complaints about government agencies and employees.

Blodgett left a voicemail with the commanders of the troopers unit that covers Mat-Su, DeSpain said. It was clear the ombudsman's office gave him the number.

The deputy commander determined "this sounds like something we should be looking into," he said.

Trooper Daron Cooper was assigned the case. He recognized Yingst's name. He found 16 more victims before prosecutors put the case before a grand jury.

'Con artist'

Many victims don't expect to ever see their money again.

Brian Harlow hired Yingst as a mechanic at his Wasilla dealership, Brian's Reliable Autos. He says Yingst took $31,000 from him and also stole four diesel trucks he was supposed to be working on and sold the motors.

Harlow lost his business over the stolen vehicles and estimates he's personally out $190,000.

"I'm a salesman. I would love to hire this guy to do sales," he said. "He's a con artist."

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