Hillsborough County detectives break up motorcycle theft ring and make a man's day

Andrew Graham of Brandon smiles as he looks over his recovered black Honda motorcycle on Thursday. The bike was stolen from his Brandon apartment complex in 2009. He’s kept making the payments on it every month since. 

LARA CERRI | Times

Andrew Graham of Brandon smiles as he looks over his recovered black Honda motorcycle on Thursday. The bike was stolen from his Brandon apartment complex in 2009. He’s kept making the payments on it every month since. 

TAMPA — Every month for the past two years, Andrew Graham shelled out $300 for a motorcycle he didn't have.

His 2008 flat black Honda CBR600rr with graffiti graphics on the tank was stolen from the parking lot of his Brandon apartment complex in 2009. He'd had it only for 17 months.

With no insurance and a 48-month loan in his dad's name, Graham, 24, had no choice but to pay for something he thought he'd never see again.

"I was angry," Graham said. "That's my money, all my money that they stole from me."

With just a few payments left before the $16,000 sports bike is paid off, Graham got some unexpected news this week.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office found it.

"I was speechless," Graham said. "My heart just dropped."

Detectives from the sheriff's auto theft section located Graham's bike and 21 others recently after an investigation into a stolen motorcycle in January led to a theft ring, said Sgt. Rob Rodriguez.

Detectives discovered a group of people were stealing motorcycles, altering the vehicle identification numbers and creating counterfeit documents claiming the motorcycles were bought in Australia and shipped to Florida, Rodriguez said. Titles were obtained from the Hillsborough County Tax Collector and the motorcycles were then sold for fair market value on Craigslist or eBay to unsuspecting victims.

So far, detectives have identified 50 stolen motorcycles that were sold as part of the theft ring and retrieved 22 of them.

Graham's bike was sold to a man in Largo who bought it without knowing it was stolen, the Sheriff's Office said. Other bikes were found as far away as California.

The total value of the stolen motorcycles was estimated at $350,000. That doesn't include money lost by the unsuspecting buyers of stolen bikes.

In March, deputies arrested three men they say were involved with the theft ring: Joshua Jay Friedman, 39, of Riverview; James Raymond Mergl, 19, of Lutz; and Eric Manes, 22, of Lutz. Charges range from grand theft to dealing in stolen property.

More suspects and charges are expected to come, Rodriguez said.

Graham, who bought a used motorcycle after his was stolen, said he is still in shock.

"I cut my losses," he said. "I thought that bike was long gone."

The recovered bike now sits in a garage he rented after it was stolen. He plans to insure it right away.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

Hillsborough County detectives break up motorcycle theft ring and make a man's day 05/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 27, 2011 1:08am]

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