Authorities announced they have arrested a crew of bike thieves who used Facebook, Craigslist and other sites to connect with their targets.
Ultimately, the crooks made off with nearly 200 high-end, custom-made bicycles over a two-year period with a total value of about $250,000, according to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department -- and now deputies are just trying to find the rightful owners.
Following a bike theft in Rancho Cucamonga which deputies say they watched through surveillance, authorities arrested 23-year-old Julian Herrera of Los Angeles, 21-year-old Jaime Herrera of Panorama City and 24-year-old Alberto Mejia of Colton.
“These burglars would identify their prospective targets from the persons selling expensive bicycles on Craigslist” as well as Facebook and White Pages Online, the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. “After establishing a dialogue about the bicycles with the sellers, the suspects would learn enough information to identify the residences where the bicycles were being kept.” The targets were homes located across Southern California in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties.
Then they’d drive to those residences, breaking in sometime in the night -- “often times when the victims were steps away, asleep inside of their homes” -- and steal the wheels, which usually were left in the homes’ garages.
Once acquired, the designer racing bikes were sold to a bike shop owner in Los Angeles, authorities said. In general the stolen bikes were worth somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000.
The L.A. Times reports that the victims were often serious cyclists such as bike club members, long-distance racers and triathletes. Once the thieves identified their targets over Craigslist, they often logged onto Facebook to find out more about them, according to the Times.
Criminal charges are also pending against the bike shop owner, 33-year-old Melecio Martinez of Los Angeles, who deputies say kept several stolen bicycles in his shop, in his home and in a storage space he rented.
Authorities have been working hard to return the bikes, and so far -- by tracking emails used by the thieves, among other methods -- they have managed to return several dozen with a total value of about $100,000.
But there are many more to go, they say. The list of cities where victims lived is long and includes Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Woodland Hills, Santa Clarita, Whittier, Oak Park, Temecula, Murrieta, Irvine, Fountain Valley, San Bernardino, Thousand Oaks and Torrey Pines.
Anyone who thinks their bicycle may have been stolen by the Craigslist thieves is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Department at (562) 946-7893.