A Tale of Two Bike Thieves

It’s certainly been an odd week in the dark netherworld of bike theftdom, and I have two stories to report with semi-happy endings. In the first one, the bike thieves were caught — but the bike is still MIA. In the second story, the bike was recovered but the thief is still at large.

***The Nordstrom Thieves***

The original Craigslist ad.

The original Craigslist ad. Click images to enlarge.

On September 30, a friend of mine alerted me to a suspicious post on Craigslist. He’d been scanning ads looking for a Specialized bike stolen from another friend, and the deal offered on this road bike looked way too good to be true: the price didn’t reflect the real value of the bike, and the description was clearly written by someone who didn’t know much about bicycles.
Crowdsourcing power...

Crowdsourcing power…

The seller claimed it had belonged to her deceased brother; perhaps this was true. But I posted it on my Facebook page anyway just in case this bike was stolen property.

Several friends of mine who saw my Facebook post searched for the phone number included in the Craigslist ad. They discovered that this same seller was trying to unload a “$1000 pair of designer jeans from Nordstrom’s” as well as a mountain bike. This raised more red flags and I headed over to stolenbicycleregistry.com to review the most recent listings for Specialized road bikes. A credible match turned up and I just had to track down the owner: a Martin who lived in San Jose. Bryan, the founder of the site, happened to be out-of-town so I was worried might not get Martin’s contact info in time (and time is of the essence with Craigslist ads, in case the bike is sold.)

Our correspondence over the past week.

Our correspondence over the past week.

I spread the word via social media and cycling groups, and through the collective effort of friends, was able to get a helpful contact at San Jose PD via my friend Joe. (I had tried calling SJPD directly but was told to call the records department in the morning. When I tried that number, I kept getting a recording to call back as they were currently helping other people. I was stuck in an infinite loop of non-service…)

Luckily, the case number was included in Martin’s post, and after contacting Capt. Tony Ciaburro of SJPD, he was able to pull up the report and reach Martin. I emailed all of the Craigslist ads to Capt. Ciaburro and waited for updates, which he provided to Joe and I via a series of text messages over the next few days.

About a week later, we finally heard some good news from Capt. Ciaburro: they were able to apprehend the thieves — those pricey Nordstrom jeans were their downfall — but alas, the bike had already been sold (allegedly to someone in Milpitas.) So it may turn up again for sale, or be spotted in the South Bay — so please contact San Jose PD if you see it out and about or posted online.

***The Professional Con Artist***

I often check the most recent tweets sent from @SFPDBikeTheft, the Twitter account managed by Ofc. Matt Friedman. He’s usually sharing the latest news about stolen bikes, and one of his retweets originally posted by Huckleberry Bicycles caught my attention.

This tweet set off the chain of events from the past two days.

This tweet set off the chain of events from the past two days.

When I clicked on the link, it took me to a post on mtbr.com that was asking for help locating a Mr. Sean Osborne: “Do you know this douchebag? He stole a 2013 titanium Salsa Mukluk from the Gear Exchange in Glenwood Springs, CO. He had been hanging around Glenwood Springs the last few days hanging around the Gear Exchange and watching us play bike polo. He said his name was Sean. He’s about 6’7″ tall and wears glasses and usually a black under armor baseball hat. He has two eyes tattooed on the back of his neck and a Ducati Tattoo on his leg. We think he’s from Denver, so we wanted to post his picture on the front range forum. Very rarely does someone have a picture of the person that stole from them so we’re trying to take advantage and reach as many cyclists as we can.”

If you see him, please call the police ASAP.

If you see him, please call the police ASAP.

So I shared the information on my social media accounts, and soon afterwards comments from bike shop employees from all over the Bay Area flooded in. He had tried selling the Salsa over the weekend and apparently had made the rounds at over 6 bike shops (but had no takers.) I then tried calling Gear Exchange in Colorado to warn them that Sean was in San Francisco. As they were closed (and their answering machine didn’t accept messages), I managed to locate the original poster of the listing on mtbr.com on Facebook (I assumed he was a part of their staff, but he’s actually a good friend of the employees), and he put me in touch with Randy — one of Gear Exchange’s owners.

We spoke at length on the phone, and I learned more than I wanted to know about this troubled individual. His primary MO is to con people out of their money (or steal their stuff) under the guise of friendship; if he’s not doing that, he’s usually trying to get laid. (I’m not going to include any links here to his unsavory exploits online, but he’s left quite a trail of bad behavior that’s easy to dig up. One friend emailed me research he conducted over several hours and believe me, you don’t want this guy coming anywhere near your female friends and relatives.)

Randy was already aware that Sean was in the Bay Area and had been working with local authorities to try and track him down. They’d had no success thus far, as Sean kept posting and removing his ads on Craigslist. The police weren’t able to move quickly enough to apprehend him (or devote enough resources to the case.) I told Randy I’d try to put him in touch with Ofc. Friedman and other officers to see if they could expedite matters.

Trying to con the con artist; click the image to enlarge.

Trying to con the con artist.

In the meantime, I decided to email Sean myself to see if I could establish contact. Based on my conversation with Randy, I sent two anonymous emails as women. One mentioned a boyfriend and was pretty straightforward, “Hey, is this bike available, I’d like to buy this for my boyfriend.” No response. The second email omitted “the boyfriend” and was purposefully written with more casual syntax. I called myself “Carla” with the email username “carlaagame”. I received a response immediately and he said the bike was still available. When I sent him a reply via email, he went silent. So I set up a fake Google voice account and began texting him. He immediately responded again, so we began texting and I assumed my fake “Carla” personality. We set a date to meet the following evening at 6PM in front of Amoeba Records, and SFPD would run an undercover sting operation.

Mission aborted.

2nd round of messages: mission aborted.

The next morning, I received a call from Randy saying the bike had been found. A shop down in the South Bay had bought it from Sean for $2200: $200 in cash and the rest of the balance with a check. “When [the shop owner] got a call from his bank that a guy without an ID was trying to cash the check, he got suspicious and stopped payment. He then had one of his shop employees search the Internet for a stolen bike like the one they had and our post [on mtbr.com] showed up — which is how he got our number…He notified local authorities and instructed his employees to tell Sean he can come back in tomorrow and get cash since there was a bank error…if he shows back up at the shop today.”

After conferring with Ofc. Friedman, I decided to text Sean one more time as if nothing had transpired and confirm our meeting. Surprisingly, Sean agreed to meet up but emphasized to “bring cash and no checks.” Ofc. Friedman rounded up a tactical squad to perform the undercover operation, and I biked over to Park Station to meet with his team. I lent the female officer posing as “Carla” my phone so she could continue texting him and relayed all of the smarmy info about Sean I had acquired over the past 24 hours. After they headed out, I nervously listened in to their radio communications as they got into position at Amoeba (they had graciously left me with one so I could monitor the situation as it unfolded in real time). They mostly chatted with each other using indecipherable codes, but 10 minutes after the designated meeting time, I could tell they weren’t going to arrest him. Sean had decided to flake at the last minute and despite the best efforts of “Carla” to convince him otherwise, he was a no-show. Maybe he was thinking of robbing “me” earlier and got cold feet, or got suspicious, or he decided to just cut his losses and run. For whatever reason, he changed his mind and may be headed out of town. (I’m guessing Los Angeles, Portland or Seattle would be next on his list.)

Sean has already served time at San Quentin for prior crimes and has a national warrant out for his arrest. So if you see him, call the police right away. And spread the word to your local bicycle shops (as well as motorcycle shops, that’s the other community he rolls in) to be on the lookout for him. Hopefully one of these days his misdeeds will catch up to him and he’ll be sent back to prison.

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  • John Milford Smithers

    Too bad you didn’t post a mug shot of this creep. Since he’s already served time, one has to exist.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      I didn’t want to repost his photo (mainly because I didn’t want to look at it), but it’s included in the link to the mtbr.com post.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com Jenny Oh Hatfield

      I actually just received an official flyer from the SFPD; I’ll include that.

  • meredithob

    I’m so impressed by your investment of time and heart, Jenny. You’re amazing.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks – just trying to chip away at the problem one thief at a time!

  • Jim Denton

    Bicycling Magazine had a story a year or so ago about a guy that would show up in town and endear himself with the local mtbers and proceed to steal their bikes. The guy seemed to have (possible) sociopathic tendencies since this the way the had operated for years. He’s in a prison in Arizona or New Mexico. I believe his weak spot was women and that was what brought him down in a sting operation

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Huh – this sounds like the same guy (or very similar.) I’ll try and find that article, thanks!

    • Jim Denton

      You could probably find it in the Bicycling Magazine archives. This guy had a quiver of bikes he hauled around with him all painted black, with no decals or other identifying features, his explanation was that he’s “in” with builders and his bikes were prototypes that he was test riding. Someone contacted a builder that he said he worked with, the builder never heard of him. It was quite a story like an espionage novel. When they nailed the guy he was hours from leaving town because he thought rightly so that they were on to him. The story was very interesting and should be a wake up call that their are low lifes out there that will con you if you let him. The only mistake that the mtb group made was trusting a new guy in town.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Yes, I was able to find it! The thief’s name was James Clayton. Thanks for the tip!

    • Jim Denton

      Isn’t that guy insidious?

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Definitely – such a violation of trust.