Updated, 8:01 p.m. | Ever since he was a boy, his brother said, Reynaldo Nazario has been obsessed with two things: cars and keys.
He would pull up a chair to the washing machine in his family’s Bronx apartment, take a key and pretend to drive the washer.
“Nobody could sit in that chair,” said his younger brother, Frank Nazario. “He’d be in that chair for hours. He’d say, ‘You can’t drive my car.’”
In adulthood, his brother said, the obsession has taken a different form: he steals cars.
He spent 9 of the last 10 years locked away on various convictions related to auto theft. In May, he got out of prison, but he did not stay idle long, prosecutors say.
On Aug. 9, according to a criminal complaint, Mr. Nazario, now 35, showed up at an auto graveyard in the shadow of Interstate 95 in the Bronx with a 1997 Honda Accord, claimed to be its owner, and sold it for scrap for $350.
Two days later, the complaint says, he did the same with a 1995 Accord. Ten days later, two more Accords, the authorities said, and on and on until the morning of Oct. 23, when Mr. Nazario took in a 1994 Accord, was paid his $350 and placed under arrest.
He had sold to the scrap yard, according to the authorities, 30 stolen cars in the span of 75 days, or an average of one every 60 hours.
On Friday, the Bronx district attorney’s office announced Mr. Nazario’s indictment on charges of 26 of the thefts, with 4 cases still before the grand jury.
Frank Nazario, 31, a dietary aide in a nursing home, is at a loss to explain his brother’s habit.
Reynaldo does not have a substance abuse problem, Frank Nazario said Friday at the apartment they grew up in on West 182nd Street in University Heights.
“My brother’s drug is cars,” he said. “He can’t stay away from them.”
Frank Nazario described him as a well-liked man who never learned to write more than his name and often lived off Supplemental Security Income, a federal benefit for low-income disabled people, when he was not incarcerated.
In his youth, Frank said, Reynaldo amassed cracker tins full of keys. In his adolescence, when older boys in the neighborhood stole cars and stripped them, “they would leave him the leftovers and he’d think the car was his,” Frank said.
Reynaldo eventually graduated to stealing cars himself, Frank said. He would pry the lock mechanism from the door of a car he wanted, take it home, file a blank key to fit the lock, and go help himself to the car, Frank said.
Talking him out of it was hopeless.
“I’d tell him, ‘It’s not the ’80s anymore,’” Frank said. “‘Cops are on to you.’” Reynaldo would promise to quit, his brother said, then go out and return with grease under his nails and the telltale scent of gas on his clothes.
“We’d know he was up to something but he’d just get defensive,” Frank Nazario said. “Then he’d call us from the precinct.”
Reynaldo Nazario has served five stretches in state prison. In 2004, he was sent away for 2 years and 10 months for an assault that involved hitting several police officers with a stolen car, crushing one of the officers against another car, according to the state corrections department. His brother said Reynaldo had anxiety issues and would panic when confronted by the police.
The recent spree ended, said Paul J. Browne, the top Police Department spokesman, after detectives identified Mr. Nazario in a “review of scrap yard sales records citywide.” Prosecutors said some of the cars had been returned to their owners, but others were crushed.
The scrap yard where Mr. Nazario is said to have taken his business, New England Used Auto Parts, on a desolate road in Eastchester, is not in trouble, Mr. Browne said: scrap yards are not obligated to report even what appears to be suspicious activity to the police.
Mr. Nazario, on the other hand, is being held in lieu of $100,000 bond or $50,000 cash bail and faces 26 counts each of possessing stolen property, falsifying business records and felony grand larceny. Theoretically, he could face more than 100 years in prison.
The previous time Mr. Nazario was free, two or three years ago, he was helping a neighbor fix her car when he messed something up, his brother recalled.
“He said to the woman, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you another car.’”
Mr. Nazario stole one from in front of the building and gave it to the woman, Frank Nazario said. The solution worked, the brother added, until the car’s owner saw the woman driving his car.