With eBay sleuthing, Capitol Hill bike theft victim fingered alleged 12th Ave operation

With a little good fortune and the “find my iPad” app, SPD appears to have nailed a stolen goods trafficking operation on Capitol Hill. One man has been arrested in the investigation but has not yet been charged with a crime.

CHS user niemcziek figured it all out months ago.

“The bottom line is we have solid proof these people are selling stolen goods on eBay,” niemcziek wrote to CHS in mid-September about an eBay account the reader traced to a 12th Ave address.

“Yesterday I was contacted by a good samaritan in Baltimore, claiming to have purchased my bike on eBay,” niemcziek told CHS in a September email.

The buyer, suspicious of the Capitol Hill, Seattle-based seller’s evasive behavior via email started looking for answers after he purchased the stripped frame. He found out about the New Year’s Eve day 2012 burglary of two high-end cycles worth north of $10,000 and contacted niemcziek. The serial number was a match.

Niemcziek began tracking the eBay account and found a busy merchant at work.

“We looked further into the endless list of high end bikes, computers, and other items for sale by this Seattle couple and have already identified at least one more bike and one laptop belonging to friends whose home was burglarized 3 weeks ago,” niemcziek told us in September.

Niemcziek’s friends purchased their bike via eBay and went  to the 12th Ave home to pick it up. There, niemcziek tells CHS, the seller told her friends the bike had been purchased via Craigslist. You can call the cops if you want to, the seller assured.

Niemcziek tells CHS she provided the results of her investigation to police. The SPD report on this week’s arrest notes that burglary detectives were “familiar” with the home: “Detectives from the East Precinct responded to the scene and immediately recognized the suspect and location as being involved in the trafficking of stolen property.”

CHS began looking into the allegations after hearing from neimcziek in September but there was nothing solid we could report. The names associated with the account had no significant Washington state criminal records and there were no police reports involving the address associated with the account. Last Friday night, CHS watched as police emptied the home of computer after computer and removed several boxes of hardware. The pieces snapped together.

Weeks before, armed with more information after his contact with her, niemcziek said the Baltimore buyer emailed the eBay seller and threatened to report the account to the online service and police. Niemcziek says the seller quickly refunded the buyer’s money and offered to have the bike shipped back to her — if she paid $85 to cover the cost.

“We have not taken them up on this offer because we would prefer to see justice for all of the other victims these people have wronged,” niemcziek told us in September.

“The bike is with its new owner,” niemcziek writes today with the news of the arrest and investigation finally breaking. “I didn’t want it back since it was stripped and sanded. I let him keep it as a ‘thank you’ for helping us bust this guy.”

For now, the bust is a personal victory. Though the account involved in the earlier transactions has been shut down — “eBay will no longer allow me to sell on this account,” the seller complains — the seller apparently already has a new account active. We’ll let you know when we hear back from the invitation to email the seller for the new eBay user ID.

We’ll also let you know when — and if — criminal charges are eventually filed. As we noted earlier, a spokesperson for the King County Prosecutor told CHS on Tuesday that the case has not yet been referred to its office.

Police are asking that burglary victims in the area be patient as evidence is examined and cataloged. A department spokesperson said it hasn’t yet been determined if the items will be featured online as they have in past investigations. On Flickr, by the way. Not eBay.

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11 thoughts on “With eBay sleuthing, Capitol Hill bike theft victim fingered alleged 12th Ave operation

  1. Another huge red flag on this guy’s ebay account: he was selling lots of $500 ‘gift cards’ – home depot, lowes, sephora, victoria’s secret etc. – for less than face value. (So he’d sell a $500 giftcard for $420) — That’s a huge red flag, this is often a low level laundering tactic – you buy the cards with stolen CC’s or ‘dirty’ cash, and then launder it at a loss. Wonder if SPD is looking into those yet.

  2. Thank you, niemcziek, for your dogged pursuit of these criminals. Let’s hope charges are filed and conviction follows.

    The white van that was filled to the brim and constantly parked in front of that house has been gone for several weeks…I have a feeling it was part of the illegal operation there.

  3. Always wondered what was going on at that house. two junker vans always parked in front or his “Do not park here” garage. Saw the police there Friday night and thought it was a break-in but I guess my perceived victims were the perpetrators. Thanks, niemcziek.

  4. My bike was recovered from this guy in August. A concerned citizen notified me that my bike was on EBay – a high end, easily identifiable bike. The police had no intention of pursuing the lead via an Ebay site – despite overwhelming proof the bike posted was mine. A friend sluethed the sellers linkedin account, name, cell phone number, wife’s name, home address, etc. When I supplied the police with this info, I had my bike back in two hours!

    I was told they had recovered another bike there in the past year. I know another was recovered there since mine. My friend ‘found’ the sellers info from someone who had located their stolen computer at his house and posted it all in a mac thread.

    He is a regular seller of stolen items and the police had no intention of busting him unless ‘guaranteed a conviction’. I was told they found a dozen other bikes and many computers in his house when my bike was recovered but, from what they told me, didn’t check any of the other items on site.

    Sounds like they got him now… fingers crossed for a conviction.

  5. I live next door to the people who were burgled last week in broad daylight. We have had problems with parcels being stolen from our doorstep starting around December 2011. I have asked the post office not to deliver parcels anymore – I have reported the issue to the police and the post master but the haven’t followed up. I know others have had the same problem and have reported it to the post office but not the police. I think someone is watching our mailman and stealing the parcels shortly after he leaves. I hope they are connected to this crowd on 12th avenue and that they all get prosecuted.

  6. He could have just taken the frame, no questions asked – after all, he got what he was looking for. But he took the time and effort to follow up.

  7. This house is a duplex. I don’t know whether or not the arrested guy and wife occupied/used both units. But if they didn’t, what about their neighbor in the other unit? There is no way he/she could not have known what was going on there.

    In addition to the white van, this guy also parked a yellow station wagon in front of his garage and it was almost always there….I wondered why he could do this, as there is a curb cut there, so parking should be illegal. He posted that large sign warning others not to park there, but apparently he thought it was his private parking space.

  8. I was wondering the same thing. From accounts of the burglaries in the neighborhood it sounds like there must have been significant activity coming and going from the property late at night and at other times, that would have been inevitably noticed when sharing a yard, building entrance etc.

    I had the misfortune of coming into contact with this family through the premise of the “Apple repair shop”. I will say in my experience there was a sophisticated level of deception, not only in the form of outright lies, but in the effort to keep up the front of their “business practice”- there were real unwitting customers coming and going, real items purchased from estate sales and so on, making it seem quite feasible. But this was upon short-term exposure to the whole thing on my part. I can’t imagine how one wouldn’t catch on actually living there.