The Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau held a press conference Wednesday in Whittier to locate owners of expensive bicycles taken in residential burglaries, including some in the Santa Clarita Valley.
More than 20 high-end bicycles (valued at between $5,000- $15,000 each) are among stolen property recovered and awaiting identification before they can be returned to their rightful owner. At the culmination of a month-long investigation of a residential hot prowl burglary crew operating throughout Southern California, deputies recovered 150 bikes that had been stolen.
The burglars would identify their prospective targets from the persons selling expensive bicycles on Craigslist. The suspects would make contact with the victims by using a fictitious name and email account. 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. Much of this information was obtained directly from the unsuspecting victims and some was obtained by searching various internet sites such as Facebook and White Pages Online.
The suspects would then drive to the targeted residences and burglarize them between 1 and 4 a.m., often times when the victims were steps away, asleep inside of their homes. Entry into the homes was made via garage door openers, which were left inside of accessible cars or by cutting the garage door at the top and using a makeshift tool to pull the garage door opener cord, detaching the opener from the door and allowing the door to be easily rolled up. Although many of the bikes were taken from the garages, the suspects would sometimes enter the living areas of the residence to locate and steal the property.
After stealing the bikes, the suspects would return to Los Angeles and sell them to a bike shop owner in the city of Los Angeles.
After many nights of surveillance, Major Crimes Investigators watched as the burglary crew entered a residence in the city of Rancho Cucamonga, using the method just described, and stole a bicycle valued at more than $5,000. Investigators then followed the suspects directly to another residence in Rancho Cucamonga, where the suspects prepared to burglarize another home. They were arrested in the act, without incident.
The property was recovered and returned to the victim immediately.
The three suspects were interviewed and implicated themselves in more than 100 residential burglaries. Subsequently, search warrants were prepared and served. Bicycles were recovered from a suspect’s residence, the bicycle shop owned by the fence and a storage unit rented by the bike shop owner.
The burglary suspects are identified as three male Hispanics, Julian Herrera, 23, of Los Angeles; Jaime Herrera, 21, of Panorama City and Alberto Mejia, 24, of Colton. They are being held in San Bernardino County jail in lieu of $2 million bail.
The owner of the bike shop was interviewed and implicated the suspects in the theft of the bicycles and himself in the receiving of known stolen property. Criminal charges are pending against Melecio Martinez , 33 of Los Angeles.
After the arrest, investigators sent out an email to all of the persons who the suspects had contacted via Craigslist, using their fictitious names. As a result, approximately 15 victims were identified and deputies were able to return their property to them, valued at more than $100,000.
In publicizing the arrests and recovery of the bicycles, the Sheriff’s Department is asking for the public’s help in an effort to return the property to the rightful owners. The burglaries occurred in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura, specifically in the cities of Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Woodland Hills, Santa Clarita, Whittier, Oak Park, Temecula, Murrieta, Irvine, Fountain Valley, San Bernardino, Thousand Oaks, and Torrey Pines.
Victims are encouraged to call Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau at 562-946-7893. Please have the brand, model and serial number of your bicycles available, as well as the police report number documenting the theft. The phone number for the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau is (323) 267- 4800.