Alder Creek Crime Fighter Episode 1
Photo Credit Paul Kuthe
Quite a few people in the paddling community know by now about the break-in that occurred at Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe in Portland, Oregon on Sunday 12/16. That night we had a major storm in the area with heavy rain and winds to 65 mph. The storm knocked out the power on Hayden Island, where Alder Creek is located, and provided the perfect opportunity for thieves to make their move. Several businesses on the island were hit that night. At one of them, the thieves broke into the building, attached a rope to an ATM machine, and unsuccessfully attempted to tow it out of the building with their pick-up truck.
At Alder Creek, the thieves used a piece of driftwood from our flowerbeds at the front of the store to smash the glass front door in. They slipped through the broken glass rather than opening the door, so the door alarm was not tripped. Although our security cameras have back up batteries, the motion detectors failed, and the alarm was not tripped. We have since fixed the problems with our alarm. The thieves ran in and grabbed as many Kokatat drysuits as they could and split. At close to $1000 each, drysuits are the most valuable, easy to transport item at our shop. They seemed to know exactly what they were after.
I found out about the break-in on Monday morning when my co-workers posted it on their Facebook pages. I run a few Facebook pages, including Alder Creek’s, and immediately began sharing the news around the paddling community. Within an hour, friends and customers of Alder Creek began sending us Craigslist, Ebay, etc., posts for “New Kokatat Drysuits” from as far away as New Jersey.
A couple of local boaters sent a Craiglist ad that I immediately recognized as suspicious. In the post, the seller said he paid $1020 for a Kokatat Goretex Front Entry suit, but the actual MSRP is $950. There was a photo of a front entry, and the description used was for an expedition suit, cut & pasted from Kokatat’s site. It was obvious from this post that they weren’t really sure what they had. In my world, it would be impossible to spend $1000 on an item and not know what it was. It seemed suspicious.
I replied to the ad, asking if it was a meridian, front entry or expedition. I received a reply within an hour, stating it was a front entry suit for sale. The color and size were the same as one of the suits that was stolen. The reply also gave me the sellers name and email address, but not enough incriminating evidence to do much more than dig a little deeper.
I replied back to the seller that I was interested in buying the suit, but I really needed two suits, hoping to gain another piece of evidence that this was our man. An hour later I received a reply stating that, miraculously, he did happen to have two brand new suits with the tags, both men’s size large front entries, both colors, sizes, and styles of what we were missing.
At this point, I was positive this was the guy, but had no real proof. I thought, “Who buys two $1000 suits, then sells them for $375 each?” At Alder Creek, we have 100% satisfaction guaranteed, which means if it doesn’t work for you, you can return it for a full refund. The only other place that sells Kokatat in Portland has the same policy. It didn’t add up, so I dug deeper.
The seller didn’t reply to my last email, and I was beginning to think I had blown it and he’d figured out I was trying to set him up for a bust. I emailed him again, saying, “If you still have the suits, I’m in. Let’s set up a time to meet today in Portland. I’m going to be offline for a while, so please text me to let me know.” I immediately received a call from the seller, and now had his cell phone number. He said he would be at Ikea by the airport for the next half hour and could meet me there. I told him I was at work and wasn’t sure I could get off. He asked, “Where do you work?” Luckily my cell phone reception was poor, and I talked right over the question without answering it. I told him I would call him back in a few minutes, while I figured out how to get free from work. At that point we called the police and asked them what we should do. They basically said we needed to meet with him to see if they were our suits, and the cops would come and arrest him once we had confirmed that.
I called the seller back to tell him I could make it to Ikea, but couldn’t get through. At that point my co-worker and I decided to just go to Ikea and hope he called back so we could meet. We waited for 30 minutes with no reply. I sent him a text saying “I’d like to buy the suits, but I only have 1 hour off of work to make it happen. Please contact me.” He called back immediately and said he was on I-205 and on the way and would call when he got to Ikea. A few minutes later he called and said he was at the Hyatt down the road and that was as far as he could get. Again this was making my spidey senses tingle, and I thought, “Who could afford to spend $2k on dry suits but can’t make it 3 more blocks to the Ikea?”
I told him we’d meet him there in a few, but how would I know who he was? He said he was wearing a black hoodie and waiting in the lobby of the Hyatt with the two suits. I walked into the lobby and there he was. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was not a paddler. I looked at his face when I asked him why he was selling the suits, and I could see a lot of pain and hard living in his eyes. For a second, I felt sorry for him and began second guessing my decision to take action that will effect this guy’s life in a seriously negative way. I believe that criminals should be punished, but it’s another thing when their punishment comes directly from your own actions.
I inspected the suits like any cautious purchaser would, and immediately noticed the Alder Creek UPC tags still on the suits. At that point I knew this was our guy. I told him I wanted to buy them, but needed to go get the cash. I said it would take me about half an hour to get to the bank and back, and I asked him if that was cool and if he’d still be there. He said he would.
I walked out of the lobby and got into the car and we drove a few blocks away and called our shop’s owner to let him know we were certain this was our man. He called the detective who had been working on our case, who then called me. The detective said he and his crew were at 47th & Burnside, which is at least half an hour away from our location near the airport. My co-worker and I waited for 30 minutes and hadn’t heard from the police, so I called the detective and told him I was going to call the seller, and tell him I was stuck in traffic, and it would be another 20-25 minutes before I could get back. I confirmed he would still be there, and then updated the detectives. Another 15 minutes passed and we still hadn’t heard back from the detective, so I called him. He said we have the guy you identified in cuffs along with another person who was his partner. I hadn’t even noticed the second guy.
The detective told me the seller was also driving a stolen truck, that he had warrants out for his arrest and that he said another guy paid him $100 to meet with me and sell me the suits. The cops wouldn’t be able to pin the breaking and entering on him, but they did have him for trafficking of stolen goods over $1000, which is a class 1 felony. It’s apparant at this point that we may have stumbled upon a much larger crime ring, and this guy was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s my hope that our actions opened up leads for the detectives to pursue the larger crime ring and get these guys off the streets. We don’t know yet how many suits will be recovered, and whatever is recovered will likely be held by the police for evidence.
Last night, I didn’t sleep very well. The initial adrenaline buzz wore off, and I began to think about all the mistakes I made. These guys now have my email address, my cell phone number and my name. If this is a larger crime organization and not just one desperate dude, I’m going to be watching my back and peering out the window for the unforeseeable future. Do I feel good about helping justice run it’s course? Yes. In hindsight, I wish I had been a bit more cautious about letting my personal information slip out. I’m taking a bit of solace in the fact that these guys made a series of idiotic mistakes and most likely aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. I was unable to find their addresses and info by searching their names, email address and phone numbers, so I’m hoping the criminals have the same problem.
Photo Credit Paul Kuthe