The thieves struck a week before Christmas 2019, a little after midnight. They smashed a window at Boulder Cycle Sport on Broadway, a main drag in the bike-mad Colorado city. In minutes they grabbed 17 mountain bikes worth a total of $85,000. Witnesses saw men in sweatshirts and gloves inside passing bikes to guys outside.
Just five days later, the thieves struck again, this time a few miles away. They broke the windows at Specialized Bike Experience and made off with nine bikes worth $73,000. Surveillance video footage showed a U-Haul parked outside the store.
Less than a month later, thieves returned to raid Boulder Cycle Sport, shattering the window again and grabbing eight bikes worth $50,000. A U-Haul truck was seen committing traffic violations as it sped out of town.
Bike theft has been a problem in Colorado, and nationwide, for years. But the brazenness of these crimes rocked the cycling businesses in the Greater Denver area. Now a Colorado grand jury has indicted eight men in what authorities say was a vast, organized bike-theft ring that raided dozens of shops on the Front Range and then sold the stolen bikes, perhaps in Mexico.
The men are accused of 29 burglaries of bike shops during a seven-month span, between December 2019 and June 2020. The indictment also accuses them of stealing nearly two dozen vehicles, which were used to scout bike shops and then drive away with the goods.
If the thieves found a lucrative target, they returned, sometimes many times: Giant Cycling World, in Littleton, was hit four times over the course of several months. Once the group even pried off the plywood that still covered a broken window from their previous break-in, authorities allege. (The store has since closed.) Totally Wired Cyclery & Joe’s Backcountry Repair Shop, in Fraser, was robbed twice in ten days, losing tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bikes. The total value of the stolen goods, vehicles, and damaged property is estimated at $1.5 million, nearly $1 million of which was bikes.
The indictments were handed down in late October but were only announced last Wednesday by Colorado attorney general Phil Weiser. “Auto thefts and property crimes have increased significantly during the last two years,” Weiser said in a release. “Working with our law enforcement partners, we broke up this multi-layered criminal enterprise that harmed several businesses and nonprofit organizations in the mountain communities and Denver metro and Boulder areas.”
The men named are: Maurice Leday, Austin Butler, Kevin Acosta-Larkin, Jason Quijada, Gregory Melina, Gerald Garcia, Adrian Rocha-Chairez, and Salvador Mena-Barreno. Among the charges are violating Colorado’s Organized Crime Control Act, first-degree aggravated motor-vehicle theft, second-degree burglary, theft, and criminal mischief. Several other men also are named as allegedly participating in the crimes, but they were not indicted.
As of Friday, two of the men, Mena-Barreno and Rocha-Chairez, were still in the Boulder County Jail. A third has apparently been released. The location of the others was not clear late last week. Bond for the eight men ranged from $150,000 to $500,000. Attorneys for the defendants could not be reached, and it was not yet clear if a trial date has been set.
Bike theft has seemed like a crime without a punishment in recent years, as the number of bikes stolen nationwide has surged. By some estimates, two million bikes are stolen annually across North America—that’s one every 30 seconds. Yet the thieves are rarely caught, and the situation in Colorado has been no different in this regard. “The state has been hit since the beginning of the pandemic with an unusually high number of shop break-ins,” says Bryan Hance, cofounder of Bike Index, a nonprofit that tries to stem bike theft by allowing people to register their bikes for free, and also to alert others when a bike is stolen. “It’s not surprising that that’s where they were operating,” he said. “It’s such great biking territory.” Put another way: people love riding in Colorado, and they have nice bikes.
News of the indictments gratified Hance. “You never hear, ‘We got ’em,’” he says.
As described in the indictments, the burglaries generally followed a pattern. Before a shop was hit, Leday allegedly coordinated with Rocha-Chairez, who acted as the fence (someone in a criminal enterprise who resells stolen goods). Rocha-Chairez even sometimes told Leday how many bikes were needed for sale, the indictment claims. Leday would then recruit two to four others via Facebook Messenger—frequently friends of his. Leday also gathered tools, from bolt cutters to gloves and masks. “Once a burglary crew was assembled, one or more of the participants would steal a vehicle, which was then used to surveil the chosen bike shop and commit the burglary,” the indictment states.
The burglaries usually occurred after midnight. A few hours before, another vehicle—such as a box truck or van—was stolen. Wearing gloves and masks, the suspects then smashed into the store using a rock, sledgehammer, or other tool. Sometimes they rammed a vehicle into the building. In May 2020, for instance, they unsuccessfully rammed a stolen U-Haul pickup into the garage doors of Denver’s Guerilla Gravity Bicycles.
Once inside, the thieves allegedly stole high-end mountain bikes and occasionally accessories. They did not take valuable road bikes, cash, or safes. “The bicycles were then taken to a specific location, and given to a fence who then arranged for the bicycles to be transported for sale out of state, and possibly out of the country,” the indictments says. “On occasion, bicycles were not moved to the fence and were instead offered for sale by the thieves themselves.”
Outside reached out to people at several bike shops that were alleged victims of the group. None wanted to speak about the thefts. “It was pretty straightforward, a smash-and-grab,” said a man who picked up the phone at Totally Wired Cyclery & Joe’s Backcountry Repair Shop in Fraser and who identified himself as an owner. He declined to talk further about the break-in.
The Mexico connection intrigues Bike Index’s Hance, a decades-long student of bike crime. “Bikes going to Mexico has always been one of these urban legends in the cycling world,” he says. “It’s always on the top of everyone’s lips, and no one has ever quantified it.”
But the indictment suggests that’s exactly what was happening. Investigators began to suspect that Mena-Barreno might be involved when they discovered he owned a box truck. Another man allegedly drove the truck over the U.S.-Mexico border 158 times between August 2019 and August 2020, according to border records. (Outside is not naming this person because he was not indicted.), Mena-Barreno also allegedly made large cash deposits in a bank in El Paso, Texas, along with withdrawals in the Denver area. The indictment claims that the timing of these bank actions corresponded with numerous burglaries.