CHENNAI: Working on a hunch while poring through social media profiles of a few suspects, a special team of the city police busted a three-member gang of drag-racer bike-lifters, all juveniles, and recovered 54 motorcycles worth about `50 lakh from their possession.
Police officials, investigating the case, said the gang might have stolen at least 200 more bikes.
Using Facebook accounts of the suspects to their advantage to crack the network, investigating officials from the Korukkupet station first sent friend requests to Venkatesh (19) and Karthik (18), schoolmates, presently working in a private catering service and involved in drag-racing.
After gaining better access to their posts, officials checked the accounts to find several videos of the two and a few other youngsters doing bike stunts and racing near Red Hills. They were using expensive bikes in the videos they had been uploading for about a year now.
When they verified the registration numbers of the vehicles, it revealed that the make and models were different, which made the officials hopeful of a breakthrough. Following the lead, a special team led by Korukkupet Crime Inspector Suresh Kumar picked up Venkatesh and Karthik earlier this week.
The duo admitted to the crime but maintained they had stolen only eight bikes. But, officials, who were unconvinced, probed further by checking their call logs and facebook account, which helped them track the entire network that led to the arrest of nine involved in the crime.
Preliminary investigations revealed that Venkatesh took to this trade after his father died a year ago. Soon, he expanded his crew by roping in three juvenile school dropouts from Ayanavaram working in the catering service. Another person Balaji (24), too, joined the gang. Since they lacked mechanical know-how, the crew learnt assembling and dismantling bikes from Rajesh alias Rajeshkumar (28) Seenu alias Seenivasan (23) and Appu alias Nandakumar alias Murugan (28), who run two-wheeler repair centres at Otteri, Kodungaiyur and Pattabiram.
As the gang began bringing in new bikes every week, the three mechanics, too, joined them. They helped erase the original engine and chassis numbers, and instead etched the chassis and engine numbers of old, discarded vehicles.
“They got a cut on every bike they worked upon. It became nearly impossible to find the actual registration number. However, we have so far identified bikes that were stolen from Korukkupet, Purasawakkam, Anna Nagar, Padi, Villivakkam, Ayanavaram, Retteri, Perambur and Ambattur,” said a senior police official.
Police said the gang targetted higher-end bikes from Bajaj, TVS, Yamaha, KTM and Royal Enfield. Often, they would compete with one another in breaking the side-lock of the bike with a single tap on the handle bar. The winner gets a lion’s share in that day’s operation. Since they worked only a few days a week, they had enough time to dismantle and re-assemble the bikes to make them look different.
Officials said the bikes recovered were totally worth `49 lakh, and that they suspect this was only a portion of the actual loot.
The trio was sent to the juvenile home at Kilpauk while the remaining six were remanded to judicial custody and sent to the Cental jail in Puzhal.