Gym rats typically go to fitness centers to lose weight.
But some health clubs in Pinellas County recently have been infested by another kind of rat, one that stole cell phones, iPods and credit cards.
The items disappeared from cars parked outside the health facilities — and maybe other businesses — and investigators believe they may know who stole them.
At noon Thursday, Pinellas County sheriff's deputies arrested three South Florida men who officials said may be responsible for the break-ins.
Caught driving a black Cadillac Escalade were Nathan M. Robinson, 32, of Lauderdale Lakes; Terrance T. Campbell, 25, of Lauderhill; and Brandon T. Davis, 22, of Fort Lauderdale.
Acting on information from Clearwater police, sheriff's Deputy Roy Swiech noted that the Escalade matched the description of the vehicle suspected of being involved in the fitness center thefts.
Swiech called for backup and stopped the Cadillac near Main Street and Lake Haven Drive.
"We've recovered dozens and dozens of driver's licenses and other forms of ID from this vehicle,'' sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said. "In addition, we've recovered well over 100 credit cards and checkbooks. What we are faced with is laying all this out" and trying to locate the victims.
Based on the addresses on the identification, investigators have concluded the thefts occurred all over Florida, including the Panhandle, the east coast and the west coast.
Authorities also said they found burglary tools such as modified screwdrivers and ice picks, as well as iPods, a laptop computer and cell phones.
Sheriff's officials said they also found evidence that the men were trying to practice the signatures found on some of the stolen credit cards and IDs. As a result, sheriff's officials said Davis, Campbell and Robinson may be linked to an identity theft ring.
Pasha said detectives do not know how long it took to amass the items deputies found.
"We're trying to determine if they are an isolated group or are connected to a larger (operation),'' she said.
In July, the Times reported that the St. Petersburg Police Department investigated 24 vehicle burglaries outside health clubs and suspected a pattern was emerging.
Brian Kridler, the YMCA's district vice president-Clearwater, said about a dozen vehicles parked outside the Clearwater branch on Highland Avenue were burglarized between October and January.
To protect members, the YMCA hired a private security firm to keep watch until security cameras could be installed two weeks ago. Since security was added, there have been no incidents.
Kridler was pleased to learn about the arrests.
"I'm ecstatic to hear they were caught, if they are the guys responsible,'' he said.
Davis was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on one count of vehicle burglary, two counts of grand theft and one count of possession of burglary tools. He was being held in lieu of $19,000 bail.
Robinson was also booked into the jail on two counts of grand theft, one count of possession of burglarious tools and one count of vehicle burglary. He also was being held in lieu of $19,000 bail.
Campbell was booked into the jail as well on one count of vehicle burglary, one count of possession of burglary tools and two counts of grand theft. He was released Friday after posting $19,000 bail.
Pasha said this is going to be "a long-term investigation'' involving several jurisdictions.
One of the primary goals is to return the stolen goods to the victims, she said.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Eileen Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.