Greeley police shut down unusual motorcycle chop shop
October 13, 2016
Detective Josh Dice stressed the importance of information and tips from the community in the course of investigations such as this. Anyone with information about property thefts can reach him at (970) 371-3712.
Greeley Police detectives Sgt. Aaron Carmichael, Josh Dice and the rest of the property crimes unit keep a list of vehicles reported as stolen in Greeley. It's sometimes called the hot sheet. Normally, the list averages around 15 vehicles. In early July, that number tripled — and most of those vehicles were motorcycles and ATVs. That was unusual.
A month and a half later, Dice stood with his colleague detective Brian Hunziker in a messy two-car garage in Evans.
"You couldn't walk anywhere without stepping in oil," Dice said. "There was graffiti all over the walls."
It was August. The two detectives had worked on the case with the Evans Police Department as well as the Weld County Sheriff's office for a month and a half. Numerous interviews with cooperative witnesses had led them here, to this well-manicured southern Evans neighborhood, where Jeffrey Smith lived with his mother.
They believed Smith and others used the garage as a chop shop — a place to dissect stolen vehicles and sell the parts on the black market.
Smith had been arrested that same day for a traffic offense. What Dice found in the garage led him to add charges of first-degree motor vehicle theft and owning a chop shop.
As Dice and Hunziker moved through the mechanical wreckage — pieces of cars, leaked automotive fluids, engine parts – the front seat of a pickup loomed before them. When he got closer, Dice found a collection of hypodermic needles on the seat, next to a glass pipe and a baggie of white powder.
That image — the car seat and the drugs — summed up what keeps the job fresh for Dice after 14 years with the Greeley Police Department.
"I enjoy working auto theft because it's a mixture of all crime," he said. "You deal with people who are transporting drugs or guns or people — you get to do a bit of everything."
Dice is a member of BATTLE — Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement, which is a regional team designed to combat auto thefts in northern Colorado. He was nominated to join the team by his colleagues at the Greeley Police Department because of his experience and skill in handling motor vehicle thefts. He and his teammates have closed down dozens of chop shops.
As he conducted interviews and made arrests — more than 10 in all — two things about this investigation struck him as strange. Most chop shops target cars and trucks, but this case involved motorcycle and ATV thefts. He also found many of his suspects were trading parts for heroin, a fairly new drug in the Greeley underworld.
Chop shops vary in organization, size and scope. This one proved to be convoluted and informal. It was a group of meth and heroin addicts turning to motorcycle theft in a desperate attempt to get their fix.
He referred to it as "disorganized crime." Stealing the bikes was easy. Two or three thieves would drive up in a pickup to a parked motorcycle, lift the bike into the bed, and be gone in seconds. They usually had a place to take it, although it was rarely the same place for multiple thefts.
"This group was really disorganized," said Carmichael, who oversees Greeley's property crimes unit. "They'd steal a bike and then find a friend of a friend who might have a place they could put it for an afternoon, then they'd move on."
In this way, the chop shop traveled around Greeley and Evans. All told, Dice estimated they stole close to 20 motorcycles valued at around $15,000–$20,000 each, as well as about 10 ATVs.
As the summer wore on though, and they continued to trade car parts or profit for drugs, the thieves began to make more mistakes.
Lifting a bike into a truck bed isn't complicated, which is why suspects were able to do it even when using drugs. But working with the vehicles after they'd been stolen was becoming more difficult.
By the time Dice stood next to a truck seat covered in drug paraphernalia in a disorderly home garage, he believed Smith and the other suspects made a habit of stealing vehicles and dismantling them in a drugged haze, down to the smallest pieces.
The truck seat was a good example. It belonged to a Dodge pickup worth $18,500 when it was stolen. When Dice and Hunziker found it, it had been destroyed.
"Meth and heroin users are famous for taking things apart and not knowing how to put them back together," Dice said. "I mean, (they) took this $18,000 truck and made it into a pile of scrap metal. It's worthless."
Dice said there was still some uncertainty about who was buying the vehicles and the parts, although it was clear many of them were traded for drugs.
Dice and his colleagues continued to investigate the nomadic chop shop for another month, while many of the people they'd arrested moved through the court system.
This summer's moving chop shop is an example of the kinds of cases BATTLE deals with often, throughout the entire northern Colorado area. For Dice, the operation was unique because of the vehicles involved, but it was not the first chop shop he's helped dismantle, and it probably won't be the last.
The investigation has been quiet for the past few weeks.
"These were people who were hitting very rock bottom and the higher they got, the more mistakes they made," Dice said. "They just couldn't think straight."