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Bike-shop mechanics help cops nab bicycle thieves

Updated: July 24, 2014 2:31AM



Looking around, he couldn’t see them, but from a hidden vantage point, police were watching the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Albany Park on Monday evening.

It was a sting.

Sam, a 21-year-old bike mechanic, who asked that his last name not be used, waited with a friend to meet someone trying to sell a bike on Facebook that had been stolen hours earlier from the basement of a Lake View home.

It was about 7 p.m. and Sam called the seller to make sure the deal was still a go.

A guy on the other end of the line said, ‘I am watching you right now.’ ”

Moments later, two teenagers — a boy and a girl — showed up with the bike.

To signal police it was time to make the arrest, Sam was supposed to stretch his hands above his head, as if cracking his back. But two unmarked squad cars skidded into the parking lot before he had the chance to limber up.

Five plainclothes police officers jumped out.

“They tried to run for it, but they were just cornered everywhere,” Sam said.

Police also nabbed two other teens who were waiting in the wings with a different stolen bike.

“I hate bike thieves,” said Sam, who works at a North Side bike shop.

Hours earlier, the owner of the bike, an interior designer from Lake View, had emailed the folks at Heritage Bikes, 2959 N. Lincoln Ave., who had sold him the custom-built bicycle.

Ben Fietz, 39, head bike mechanic at Heritage, sent a note to Sam, an old colleague, to be on the lookout for the bike — which cost about $1,200.

A few hours later, it surfaced on a Facebook group notorious in the bicycling community as an outlet for stolen bikes.

The bike was listed for $200. Sam volunteered to pose as a buyer. The sellers chose the location, a McDonald’s parking lot at Kedzie and Wilson.

For advice on how to proceed, Fietz reached out to a Chicago police mounted bicycle officer who occasionally visits Heritage. The officer put Fietz in touch with police in the Albany Park area.

A 16-year-old boy was charged with possession of stolen property and 17-year-old boy was charged with burglary.

After the arrests were made, Sam met the owner of the bike, a 51-year-old interior designer who asked that only his first name, Tom, be used.

“He was very stunned how just that morning he made a police report and that night he got his bike back,” Sam said. “That is very uncommon, especially in Chicago. Usually when you have your bike stolen, that’s the last you hear of it.”

The two spent about three hours at the police station together.

“It was truly amazing like how the community can get together and follow something like this with the help of the police,” Tom said. “It’s really encouraging to see young people like Sam get involved and just do the right thing.”

Tom offered Sam a reward, but he turned it down.

“What do you offer someone for doing something like this? I hope we can at least all go out to dinner,” Tom said.



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