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Man charged as dozens of bikes seized

Citizen sleuths and police came together recently to find tens of thousands of dollars worth of high-end bicycles at the home of a local man with a prior theft record. Now that man, 40-year-old Joe Abel Arevalo, stands accused of stealing at least two bicycles, though many more were recovered at his residence.

“It’s at least $60,000 worth of bikes,” says Ronnie Vance, a manager at a bike shop called Endeavor Cycles.

Vance says that Arevalo came into the Fontaine Avenue shop several weeks ago seeking repairs on several high-end cycles, but seemed unfamiliar with a seat retractor known as a “dropper post.”

“If you have four 8,000-dollar bicycles, you should know what that is,” says Vance. “So that was the first red flag.”

Vance says that when Arevalo showed up in October, one regular customer was enthralled with Arevalo’s collection.

“When he was in here with Joe, he started swiping his phone and saying, ‘Look at all these cool bikes Joe owns.’”

Like others in the tight-knit two-wheeled community, Vance keeps a running list of missing local bikes and says he recognized several on the customer’s phone.

“It was pretty obvious there was something suspicious going on,” says Vance. “I played it cool. I asked him where he lived and made an appointment.”

Back in August, third-year resident in pediatric medicine Augustin Casals went out to play golf; when he returned home to his townhouse off Fifth Street Extended, he entered his garage and realized his Yeti SB100 bicycle was gone.

“It’s kind of sucky to have your bike stolen in broad daylight,” says Casals.

Casals says he had two forensic leads on the $5,000 item. One, he says, was a surveillance video which showed a stranger making a middle-fingered gesture toward his garage-mounted camera. Another came from the Apple AirTag that Casals had covertly bolted to his bike. He says he tracked the signal to a stone wall on Reservoir Road.

Vance’s and Casals’ allegations are reiterated in police affidavits that led to a search of the house that Arevalo rents on Reservoir Road.

According to an officer’s handwritten notes, they found dozens of bicycles. Beyond Casals’ Yeti, three more appear to be worth more than $5,000: an Ibis Ripmo, a Santa Cruz Blur, and a Santa Cruz Bronson.

Another incident in August leading to the multi-bike discovery was the theft of several pieces of conduit, the metal pipes that protect electrical wires, at Rexel, an electrical supply company on Fifth Street Extended.

A neighboring business had alerted Less Johnson, a Rexel salesman, that surveillance video showed a man loading conduit onto a trailer pulled by an SUV.

“We looked at the video and got a picture of him, a picture of his truck, and a picture of his trailer,” says Johnson.

They got something else.

“During the incident, a receipt falls out of his truck and lands on the ground,” writes Charlottesville Police Officer B. Green.

The receipt was from the Subway sandwich shop at the Seven Day Jr. on Maury Avenue, where surveillance video matched the man to the truck and trailer, the officer wrote. But they still didn’t have a name.

That would come at Rexel, where electricians shop.

“We put a picture on our counter,” says Johnson, “and a customer recognized him.”

That was August; but Arevalo, who lists his occupation as a self-employed electrician, was not arrested until early November.

“We waited for months and months,” says Johnson. “Apparently, us getting robbed was forgotten about.”

Charlottesville Police spokesperson Kyle Ervin declined to comment. But Johnson says it’s a matter of public concern.

“Why they didn’t act when I gave them his name, his truck, and his address I don’t know,” says Johnson. “Anybody that got robbed after that, well, that’s on the Charlottesville Police.”

On September 18, a lab specialist at the University of Virginia medical lab filed an arrest warrant against Arevalo after she says she found video of Arevalo entering her house without authorization. Despite being named with his address in that sworn warrant, Arevalo was not arrested in that incident until being cited for misdemeanor trespass on November 3.

That’s the day Arevalo was hit with two city felony charges of grand larceny, plus two more felony counts of grand larceny and one charge of drug possession in Albemarle County. When police raided the Reservoir Road house, they claim they confiscated an array of 327 pieces of merchandise including bicycles and stacks of power tools, many still boxed and tagged. They also claim to have seized a methamphetamine-encrusted smoking pipe.

The house owner, Ton Dinh, said he was unaware of his tenant’s activities.

“Thanks for telling me,” said Dinh.

After a night in jail, Arevalo was released on a $5,000 cash bond paid by his mother, Maria I. Umanzor Mejia.

Local courts have lengthy files on Arevalo’s past crimes. In one such file, he admits to seven felony convictions including three burglaries, three grand larcenies, and one felony shoplifting charge.

He has also been twice convicted of failure-to-appear and awaits adjudication on an assault and battery charge for allegedly bruising a family member with a pressure-washer. He pleaded not guilty, but the court found “facts sufficient” and deferred judgment to March 2023.

By late December, bike-missing citizens were getting invited to a shipping container on Avon Street that police have been using to store bicycles and other merchandise seized from Arevalo’s house.

“You don’t see bikes get recovered very often,” says Luke Flaxman, president of UVa’s cycling club. They recalled two cycles getting stolen during the Cavalier Classic, a two-day race in September.

Chris Jessee came to the storage locker to get the electric lawn mower that he says was stolen from his locked shed and saw a father and two daughters retrieve missing bikes. He says he knows a neighbor who reclaimed an electric bike, and feels badly about the alleged trespass at the UVa lab worker’s house.

“There was an astonishing amount of stuff in that trailer, and it’s astonishing that one person could cause so many people so much grief,” said Jessee.

Arevalo has yet to enter a plea to the recent charges, and his lawyer, Scott Goodman, declined to comment on them.


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