Austin Police arrest man connected to 97 high-end bike thefts

Marcelino Avelar-Rapalo / Courtesy: Austin Police Department

A man accused of stealing at least 97 bicycles in the Austin area since 2013 has been arrested.

According to an arrest affidavit, police believe 30-year-old Marcelino Avelar-Rapalo is behind a series of bike thefts in the Central West and South West areas of Austin.

Law enforcement officials say that some of the stolen bikes turned up as far south as Harlingen.

Mark Wallace lives in Central West Austin and is one of the victims.

"It was frustrating that your house had been violated and you had been specifically targeted and you didn't know how or why," he said.

Although Wallace has several bicycles in his garage, the thief only took the most expensive one.

"He smart he knew what he was looking for and he knew how to get in and out quickly," Wallace said.

Avelar-Rapalo was caught on surveillance camera loading Wallace's bike worth more than $4,000 into an SUV this past summer.

APD says the department has taken a minimum of 97 reports of nighttime bicycle thefts of high-end bikes valued between $1,000 and $12,000.

In these cases, the suspect entered a garage, shed, or residence between midnight and 6:00 a.m. to steal the bikes.

Police say that a report was made of one of the stolen bicycles turning up on Craigslist for sale in McAllen, Texas. Police searched Craigslist using the phone number listed on the ad and discovered several more stolen bikes listed from the same seller.

APD coordinated a buy/bust with the Harlingen Police Department and found the seller, identified as 38-year-old Juan Valdez, to be in possession of 6 bicycles, 4 of which matched descriptions of bikes stolen in Austin, including a Cervelo P4 valued at $10,000.

During questioning, Valdez said he purchased the bikes from Juan Carlos Munoz of Austin. Valdez said he purchased the 6 bicycles for a total of $5,000, and that he met Munoz while shopping at a flea market in San Antonio.

Valdez said he had bought around 30 bikes from Munoz over the last 3 years, and denied knowing the bicycles were stolen.

An Austin Police detective spoke with Munoz in October and showed him pictures of the stolen bicycles and asked if Munoz remembered buying or selling the bikes. Munoz stated he bought 3 of the 4 bikes from a man referred to as "Tuft" due to his tuft hair style.

Munoz provided police with Tuft's address, phone number and the information that Tuft worked at a local pizza restaurant. Munoz said that when he purchased the bikes from Tuft, they were stored inside Tuft's 2004 Toyota 4-Runner SUV.

Detectives used this information to identify Tuft as Avelar-Rapalo. The Toyota SUV registered to Avelar-Rapalo matches the description provided by Munoz as containing the stolen bikes, as well as an SUV spotted in the area of the bicycle burglaries. Surveillance pictures from one of the burglaries also feature a suspect that matches the physical description of Avelar-Rapalo.

After detectives determined that he was involved in the burglaries, Avelar-Rapalo was put under covert surveillance in early November. On 2 consecutive days, Avelar-Rapalo left his home around 1:47 a.m. and traveled through the areas where multiple bike burglaries had taken place.

Detectives also determined from Avelar-Rapalo's driving patterns and the light traffic in the area that he took side streets and made unusual stops determined to be heat checks--a method of determining if he was being followed by police.

Austin Police received two calls of burglaries in the area where Avelar-Rapalo had been, at which point a search warrant was issued for his residence and vehicle. The two stolen bicycles were recovered.

Detectives questioned Avelar-Rapalo who confessed to stealing the two bikes recovered in the search and to several other burglaries. Police say Avelar-Rapalo gave specific details of how the burglaries were committed which would not be commonly known.

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