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Two years later, police sting and Craigslist help get stolen bike back

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 21st, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Shop owner Wakefield Gregg
set up the sting.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A bike stolen from The eBike Store on N. Vancouver and Alberta two years ago has been recovered thanks to some citizen sleuthing and a sting operation by the Beaverton Police Department.

The shop's owner, Wakefield Gregg, checks Craigslist for stolen bikes everyday. His persistence paid off on Friday when he saw a listing that looked very suspicious. It turns out that the bike, an eZee Sprint worth $2,000, was a limited edition aqua blue color. "It helps that the bike was one of 10 made in the aqua blue color, and was the only one imported to the Pacific Northwest," said Gregg.

Since the listing was in Beaverton, Gregg contacted the Beaverton PD to coordinate a meeting with the seller in the hopes of getting the bike back.

Security camera footage showing
the thief smashing and grabbing
the bike.

Gregg and shop employee Chad Keele set up a meeting on Saturday with the Craigslist poster. Two Beaverton PD officers accompanied them and hid in the bushes nearby while Keele took the bike on a test ride and verified its serial number. Once Keele was certain the bike was theirs, he signaled the cops and they moved in.

It turns out that the sellers of the bike weren't the original thieves. They bought from a garage sale about a year ago, Gregg says, and decided to sell it only after realizing they couldn't afford to replace the battery (it was stolen without one). In the end, Gregg gave them $150 for the bike, which is what they said they bought it for.

The Beaverton PD now hope that new information from the sellers will lead them to the thieves responsible for the smash-and-grab at The eBike Store back in 2010.

"My daily routine of checking Craigslist paid off," said Gregg, and he also has some advice for everyone who wants to increase their chances of recovering a stolen bike. "This whole process has reinforced to me the importance of writing down the serial number of bikes. If you have a bike stolen, it's impossible to recover it without it."

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Comments
  • meh February 21, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    What persistence, well done.

    And a very nice gesture paying for the bike.

    Who knows how many hands this went through to get to this point.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • BURR February 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    These days, not all serial numbers are stamped in the bike frame, I've recently seen bikes with serial numbers on removable stickers.

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  • meh February 21, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    The stickers are usually on carbon fiber frames. It's difficult to stamp into CF.

    I know that RFID has been considered for CF frames just the problem of having a reader available to get the information.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • esther c February 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    I don't understand why they had to pay the sellers for it if it was stolen merchandise. Why didn't the police impound it and return it to them. Let the buyer beware.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Marsh February 21, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      They were just being nice.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

    • middle of the road guy February 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Because the people who bought it were not at fault and it would have been a dick move to lure them into a sting and take away something they had no idea was stolen.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

    • captainkarma February 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      My son did the same thing to get his LHT back in Dayton. It kinda sucks, but then again, it all works out in the long run.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Pete February 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    If the sellers were telling the truth, they will be able to direct the police to the site of the alleged garage sale making it theoretically possible to ID a suspect. Whether anyone can locate the suspect two years later is another question. Even if located, the suspect may claim the he/she bought the bike in good faith from someone else, but they just can't remember his name....

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  • Wake Gregg February 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Thanks Jonathan for the great write up.

    When we launched three years ago, banks weren't lending. We have scrimped and saved and gotten by on my wife's salary and reinvested everything else back into the shop.

    At 25% margin, it takes quite a bit of time to pay for a $2k bike.

    I didn't give up the $150 easily. The folks who posted the bike on CL really needed the cash and because they had already offered to work with police to potentially break up a bike stealing ring, I felt good about offering it.

    Wake

    Recommended Thumb up 14

    • craig harlow February 22, 2012 at 10:09 am

      Congratulations Wake!

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Antload February 21, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Such great news.

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  • Portland's One Stop Electric Bike Shop February 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    As I have thought more about it, I may have come up with a fairly simple solution to bike theft in general.

    1. Pass a law that requires folks to post the serial number when they advertise a used bike for sale. Contractors have to post their contractors license # when they advertise, this would be like that.

    2. Then, each bike manufacturer would get a unique 4 character code and a unique algorithm to generate their serial numbers so they wouldn't be linear.

    3. Police computer sends bots through the ether-sphere to note bikes that are being advertised with stolen or false serial numbers. This would make it easy to round up the thieves.

    4. When buying a used bike, all the purchaser would have to do is verify that the serial number advertised matches the serial number on the bike.

    I recognize that it would take years to get the new serial numbers to be the majority in circulation, but from my narrow viewpoint it seems like it would be a low cost, lasting solution to the bike theft problem.

    thoughts?

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Bryan Hance February 22, 2012 at 11:54 am

      1) would be almost impossible to pass. "burdensome" etc. Also impossible to enforce. (CL and Amazon were rumored to be getting pressured by various sides to include mandatory serial on items over a certain value and they pushed back hard, hard, hard on it.)
      3) Criminals would fudge the numbers when listing.

      It is basically the human side of things that screws it up...

      -bhance
      -stolenbicycleregistry.com

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Portland's One-Stop Electric Bicycle Shop February 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm

        Bryan,

        Not burdensome in the least and very easy to enforce.

        If you believe Levitt and Dubner's work, Freakonomics, the real reason anti theft devices like LoJack have not caught on is because replacing stolen goods is a huge business.

        If serial numbers were generated by a logrythmic code it would be very hard to post a fabricated serial number. The Police bots would check against the stolen bike serial number database AS WELL AS VERIFY THAT THE SERIAL NUMBER IS LEGITIMATE WITH THE ALGORYTHM that generated the code. Changing one digit would simply flag the SN as fake. It really isn't rocket science.

        This can be done, should be done and would be easy to do. Seriously a good programmer could crank this out in one day.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • middle of the road guy February 22, 2012 at 12:56 pm

      I doubt the administrative costs of such a policy would make it worth it.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Portland's One Stop Electric Bike Shop February 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    BTW, if anyone has friends or relatives in passaic park, NJ I would pay them to look over and get the serial number on this bike

    http://newjersey.craigslist.org/bik/2766948492.html

    It may be another one of mine (probably not, but I would pay someone $30 to go and have a look)

    wake

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • craig harlow February 22, 2012 at 10:11 am

      Facebook is great for that sort of thing...

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • bikeyvol February 22, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Hey Wake -

      I have several friends and colleagues from NJ near Passaic Park. I'm putting the word to them about this bike. What's the next step? Should they contact you?

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Portland's One-Stop Electric Bicycle Shop February 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm

        Hello Bikeyvol,

        Yes, Please have them contact me. What I would like is simply for them to take a look at the bike and get the serial #. My website is linked about and I respond to the contact form there... Happy to send $30 for a photo and serial #!

        Thanks!

        Wake

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • I love it when cops arrest bicycle theives February 22, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Possible stolen bike, sellers who don't need the money, or a great deal? Go get em cops! Long Haul Trucker. No photo. 1400 bike with 10 miles on it. They want 600 bucks...

    http://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/bik/2863599358.html

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Ron February 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      Perhaps he's not the original owner, and he bought it for $800 from someone who got it for around $1,000, which is the base price for a stock LHT. Just because he saw one in a shop with the $1,400 sticker on it doesn't mean his was ever worth that much. The more expensive one probably had accessories like racks and fenders to go for that price.

      While I'm all for catching (and tarring and feathering) bike thieves, let's not go calling 5-0 on every flaky ad.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Subsidized on street parking February 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm

        Ron, do you think that anyone in town paid 1400 bucks for a touring bicycle just so they could pedle around town ten miles and then sell it for 800 bucks?

        Recommended Thumb up 1

        • Ron February 25, 2012 at 7:24 am

          No, I don't. As I noted, a stock LHT isn't worth $1,400. Check the ad--the seller said he saw one in a shop for that much. Actually, they're worth around $1,000, and a significant portion of that value is lost the minute you ride (pedal) it out of the shop. It's easy to believe a bike which has been turned around twice could lose a couple hundred bucks on each sale, especially if the seller is, say, a spoiled kid who's cashing in on gifts from home for beer money. I'd say the seller is a flake, not a thief.

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    • Shetha February 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      I wonder if it's the one that was stolen from 7 corners...

      http://bikeportland.org/2012/02/03/window-pane-bandit-or-a-copycat-hits-another-bike-shop-66652

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • SteelSchwinnster54 February 22, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Jonathan, another great story follow-up. I'd love to see a little video of the officers from Beaverton and Owner of shop. Persistance does pay off, and now someone gets to buy a famous ebike.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Max Taint February 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Nice work Wake.
    Even though the sting would have been even more gratifying if it were the actual thief selling the bike on CL (and maybe the Beaverton Police maybe accidentally pushed the thief down some stairs. . . in handcuffs), its great that you recovered your property.
    Tho I'm not much of a Bible thumper, I do have a strong intuition that there is an especially dark place in hell waiting for bike thieves.
    Max

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Antload February 22, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      What Maximus said.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

    • captainkarma February 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      That's from Dante, I believe.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • mh February 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Until we get a serial # tracking system, only buy steel frame bikes with caliper brakes at garage sales...

    Really nice to see this kind of save, and reimbursing the $150 to the I'm sure terrified sellers was the right thing to do.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

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