Some names have been changed to protect the innocent and unfortunately not-so-innocent.
Last month local police executed a warrant for a home in a middle class neighborhood in Vancouver; they were searching for stolen bikes. The house belonged to a businessman, his wife and children - your average nuclear family. Nothing stood out about the property, a well kept house with a nice car parked in the driveway, that would alert you to any wrongdoing within. Next to his kids' pedal bikes in the garage hung the owner's mountain bike, next to that police found roughly $20,000 of suspected stolen bike parts.The Evidence
In the months previous to the bust, police had received two separate calls about stolen bikes. One came from the business, Endless Biking, where a smash and grab had left them without their cashbox, computer and one Rocky Mountain Element. The second call came from Tom whose mountain bike had also been stolen. Dedicated to finding his bike, Tom scoured the usual Internet hotspots for used bikes sales and found his components for sale under multiple accounts on Pinkbike.
With collaboration between North Vancouver RCMP and Pinkbike, it was found that the multiple usernames, some listing international locations, all traced to one IP address and one location. Using this information police obtained a warrant to search the premises, expecting they would find Tom’s stolen bike parts.
Constable Dave Vunic describes what he saw upon entering the suspect’s garage, “there was a corner with ten or twelve suspension forks, a pile of twenty or more wheels – Chris King hubs, DT Swiss, you name it, it was there. There were Tupperware full of derailleurs and shifters, a closet full of bike frames – which I’m guessing had been stripped down and he hadn’t had a chance to dispose of yet. "But”, he adds, “The first thing that caught my eye was the Rocky Mountain that was taken from Endless Biking because I knew that bike and I knew that it had been stolen.” The Crime
From the evidence collected the police surmised that the suspect was purchasing stolen bikes from petty thieves and drug users, stripping the valuable components from them and disposing of the frames, as they were the only traceable items. He would then organize the derailleurs, brakes, wheels, forks and the likes into labeled bins, piles and racks, before listing and selling the parts through multiple accounts on Pinkbike.com.
The suspect claimed, that not knowing it was stolen, he had purchased the Rocky Mountain Element for $1200 on Craigslist.com. Police have since arrested another man, who was already known to them, for the break-in at Endless Biking. They feel that it is more likely that this suspect paid roughly $300-$400 to the known criminal for it, expecting to make roughly an $1800 profit from the XTR components. This is just one example of what appears to have been a long running bike theft operation. The Suspect
“He looks like a regular guy or business man,” says Constable Vunic, “I would never think of him as a bike thief, I think of a bike thief as a street person who is going through alleys and looking for an opportunity to steal from someone.” The suspected criminal claimed that police had simply stumbled onto his hobby. His defence became that he was an avid biker and as a favourite pastime he purchased used bikes on Craigslist, stripped the valuable components from them and resold them for a profit on Pinkbike. “The accused knows his stuff, he knows all the parts, and he knows that value of an XTR derailleur or any other component. By looking at his collection, he’s probably been doing it for years.”
A review of his ‘for sale’ posts on Pinkbike showed that he was careful to undercut similar items by a marginal amount, helping him to sell quickly but not raise suspicion. He never met the purchasers in person, even though they were often from the same city, he used a courier for deliveries.
Police admit that this suspect was not on their radar, however some of the people associated with the stolen goods in his possession are known bike thieves (police believe that based on the volume of high end parts in his possession he had multiple people working for him). The racket that he had going on was kept so low key that it is unlikely that anyone outside of his immediate family had any idea about it.The Outcome
Is this man a criminal mastermind or a hapless bike enthusiast whose only mistake was maintaining multiple Pinkbike user accounts and disposing of bike frames? We may never know. “It can make sense, he says his hobby was to buy parts and sell them,” says Const. Vunic who is doubtful of suspect’s defence.
A conviction of possession of stolen property over $5000 carries jail time. Crown Counsel must be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to prove a crime and without traceable parts, unfortunately there is was not enough evidence to proceed. And so they chose not to lay charges against the accused. Worse yet, says Const. Vunic, “we had to return all the parts [except for the Rocky Mountain Element], which is horrible”. Unfortunately with thousands of dollars worth of untraceable product it is easy to claim innocence – and ignorance - in the eyes of the law. “He played stupid.”
At the end of the day, even if he is innocent and he is telling the truth, his actions are still keeping bike thieves in business. His only error was listing the parts from one bike at the same time through multiple Pinkbike accounts; even so had it not been for an overzealous bike owner, his operation might have gone unnoticed for many more years. Only mountain bikers buy mountain bike components and he is essentially laundering them so that we are unknowingly purchasing stolen parts. As a self-described mountain biker, he is among us and is one of us. “I have no doubt that when this is posted on Pinkbike he will see it.”