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Suspect is charged in theft of $5,000 bike from Costa Mesa shop

Suspect is charged in theft of $5,000 bike from Costa Mesa shop
Paul Verdugo Jr., 42, was charged with grand theft on allegations of taking off with a $5,000 racing bicycle during a test ride at the Cyclist bike shop in Costa Mesa. (Courtesy of Orange County district attorney's office)

A man suspected of using a test ride to steal a $5,000 racing bicycle from a Costa Mesa bike shop has been charged with grand theft, according to court documents.

A caller contacted the Cyclist in the 1700 block of Newport Boulevard on Monday, saying his family was urging him to return the stolen bike, store owner John Marconi said Friday. Marconi and General Manager Anthony Karambellas persuaded the caller to go to the shop and even paid for a ride service to take him and the bike from Fullerton to Costa Mesa.

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When a man arrived with the bike, officers arrested him on suspicion of theft, police said.

Paul Verdugo Jr., 42, who is listed as a transient, was booked into Orange County Jail. He was released Wednesday on a pretrial supervision program, according to the county district attorney’s office.

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On April 2, a man entered the Cyclist and posed as a customer looking to buy a high-end racing bike. He chatted with the staff about bike racing and appeared highly knowledgeable about the topic, according to Karambellas.

When Karambellas showed him a bike by Spanish brand BH, the man knew about it and its specifications. The Ultralight Evo Disc was the only BH model the store carried.

When the man asked to take the bike for a test ride, Karambellas asked for identification, as is store policy.

“The ID said he was relatively older than he appeared to be,” Karambellas said in an interviewlast week. He said the man appeared to be in his early 40s, but the man on the ID was 55.

But Karambellas decided the man resembled the person in the photo enough, so he accompanied him and the bike outside to the parking lot.

The driver’s license was real but stolen, police said.

The man rode back and forth in front of the store, stopping to make comments and even asking if he could return later to test the bike again with his own pedals, Karambellas said.

Then he rode one more length of the parking lot and, taking a sharp left turn, took off on West 18th Street, Karambellas said.

Karambellas grabbed a nearby bicycle and tried to chase the man but quickly realized he wasn’t going to find him.

The manager distributed images of the man from the store’s security footage, generating attention on social media and tips that led police to the suspect, according to Costa Mesa Police Department spokeswoman Roxi Fyad. The Cyclist also offered a $1,000 reward in the case.

Verdugo was charged with one felony count of grand theft and one count each of identity theft and receiving stolen property, both related to the ID, according to court documents.

Verdugo pleaded not guilty to all charges Wednesday and is scheduled to be back in court April 18, according to court records.

The Cyclist is taking “bigger steps than we would have in the past” to protect itself from theft, Karambellas said, like collecting a credit card deposit to test certain merchandise.

The Cyclist anticipates losing about $2,000 on the bike because of damage and wear and having to advertise it as used. The bike was returned with the dropped handles sawed off, which Karambellas said some racers who ride hills do to lighten a bike.

The shop will have to make a special order for new handlebars and replace the cables and housing as well as the tires, which showed “a decent amount of wear for the short amount of time,” Karambellas said.

This article was originally published at 5:15 p.m. and was later updated with additional information and comments.

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