SAN LEANDRO -- A bicycle patrol officer arrested a Fremont man Wednesday after suspecting he was conducting an ongoing scam in the Washington Plaza parking lot where he would remove bolts from motorists' transmissions and appear on-site to repair their vehicles.
Over the past few months, several Toyota and Scion owners have returned to their cars in the 1400 block of Washington Avenue and found their vehicle stuck in park, Lt. Robert McManus said. Shortly thereafter, a man in his 50s would appear in a mechanic's jumpsuit and offer to fix the problem on-site for about $75, in order to save the motorists towing fees and other costly repairs.
The repairs were simple, police said, and involved the installation of one bolt in the transmission, which the mechanic had with him each time.
Bicycle officer Brian Buss caught wind of the rash of vehicle damage and immediately believed it to be a scam, McManus said. By February, Buss began looking for a man matching the description of the "mechanic" frequenting Washington Plaza.
At 10:25 a.m. Wednesday, Buss spotted a 54-year-old man matching the suspect's description loitering near the Washington Plaza CVS store, police said. Buss found him drunk and located a 12 mm socket wrench and bolt in his pocket that matched the ones displaced from the Toyotas and Scions.
Buss then waited in the parking lot for a tow truck to arrive, under the assumption that it would point to a car with an allegedly broken transmission, authorities said. Two hours later, a tow truck pulled up and stopped behind a Toyota Camry, which the vehicle's owner later told Buss was stuck in park.
Officer Buss and the tow truck driver inspected the car and discovered that the bolt found in the man's pocket matched the missing bolt removed from the vehicle's transmission, police said. The tow truck driver reinstalled the bolt, which fixed the car and prevented it from having to be towed at all.
The suspect, who was on probation for drug and alcohol offenses, is not being named until the investigation proceeds further. Before the tow truck came, he was arrested for public intoxication but police believe he is responsible for the scam and slew of vehicle damage, McManus said. Investigators are looking for other drivers who may have been victimized in a similar way, and ask them to contact the San Leandro Police Department at 510-577-2740 with any information they may have.