The Cyclist bike shop
- The man who stole a $5,000 road bike from a California bike shop this month returned it less than a week later.
- Paul Verdugo, Jr., allegedly rode off with a BH Ultralight EVO Disc during a test ride after gaining the trust of the shop staff and handing over a stolen ID.
- Police arrested Verdugo after the return and connected him to three other bike shop thefts in the area.
Earlier this month, a man now identified as Paul Verdugo, Jr., allegedly talked his way into test riding a $5,000 BH Ultralight EVO Disc at The Cyclist bike shop in Costa Mesa, California.
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After gaining the trust of the staff with his knowledge of high-end road bikes, Verdugo, 42, handed over an ID and did a few loops in the parking lot. Then he sprinted out to the street, disappearing around the corner and stealing what had been the shop’s most expensive bike for sale.
On a recent Monday, however, Verdugo called The Cyclist right around closing time.
The thief explained who he was and that he wanted to return the bike, confessing that he was tired of everyone recognizing him from TV. His face had been broadcast all over local and national news, publicly connecting him to the theft. A former high-school classmate had recognized him. Even over in Europe, news stations had covered the theft and shown his face.
“He said, ‘I can’t go anywhere or do anything, everyone knows me and this bike,’” store manager Anthony Karambellas said. “He said he wanted to part ways and get this over with, but we told him, ‘That’s not quite how this works, dude.’”
Watch: Verdugo moments before taking the BH for a “test ride.” Footage courtesy of The Cyclist bike shop.
Verdugo had called from a Cricket Wireless that didn’t list his number, but the call made it easy for police to pinpoint his location. Karambellas handed the phone to shop owner John Marconi.
Talking to Verdugo, Marconi learned the thief had stolen the bike simply because he wanted to ride it. Verdugo said he’d been a bike geek all his life; he can’t afford the models he likes, so he steals them. He had cut the drops off the handlebar like Phil Gaimon’s climbing bikes, and had been riding the BH around Southern California for less than a week.
Marconi and Karambellas spoke to Verdugo for about half an hour until they convinced him to return the bike. The callled Verdugo a Lyft so he could arrive quickly.
“I’m still in awe that it happened, but I somehow convinced him to get in the Lyft,” Karambellas said.
Karambellas tracked the ride on his phone. “I even called the Lyft driver to make sure [Verdugo] was in the car with the bike, which he confirmed,” he said. When Karambellas watched Verdugo get out of the car a few blocks from the shop, “we thought it was over, that he got cold feet and ditched.”
But 10 minutes later, Verdugo called again. He asked if the police were there, to which Marconi replied, “I can’t see any police” (one cop was in the bathroom and another waited in a delivery van outside). About 15 minutes after that, Verdugo rolled up to the front door with the BH, where Karambellas greeted him and stalled until the police emerged from their hiding places.
“He tried to turn around and leave but he didn’t have anywhere to go,” Karambellas said. The cops took Verdugo into custody.
After the arrest, authorities connected Verdugo to three other bike shop thefts in the nearby towns of Whittier, Fullerton, and La Habra. He was charged with felony grand theft of the BH as well as identity theft, since the ID he used as collateral for the test ride had been stolen.
Verdugo pleaded not guilty to all charges last week and was released under supervision awaiting trial. He faces up to three years in prison.
As for the pricey road bike, it dropped slightly in value but didn’t sustain too much damage. Shop staff said it will soon be back on sale for $4,000.
“It could have been in a lot worse shape,” Karambellas said. “I’ve got to put a new set of carbon bars on it, a new set of tires, and do a tune-up, and it’s sellable.”