San Leandro police say they’ve cracked a case of people being scammed into thinking their car transmissions had failed while they were parked in the city’s downtown, then paying for “repairs” after a man posing as a mechanic just happened to show up.
Since at least February several people have returned to their Toyotas or Scions parked in the Washington Plaza area and found that they could not get their cars out of park.
A police spokesman says in each case a man wearing a mechanic’s jumpsuit approached the stranded driver and for a fee of up to $75 offered to “repair” the car on the spot.
The so-called repairs were simple — installing a single bolt in the transmission — which the “mechanic” just happened to have on him.
Police say a break in the case came Wednesday when an officer on bicycle patrol questioned a man he saw loitering in the area that fit the description of the supposed mechanic.
The officer determined the man was on probation for drug and alcohol-related offenses, then arrested him for public intoxication.
After being taken into custody, police found the suspect was carrying a socket wrench and a bolt.
With a number of Toyotas parked in the lot, the officer suspected one of the cars might be missing a transmission bolt.
Sure enough, as the officer stood watch over the parking lot for about two hours, a tow truck showed up and pulled in behind a Toyota.
The driver said his car was stuck in park — the same problem the other vehicles had experienced. And — like the other cars — his car was also missing a transmission bolt.
It was determined the bolt the suspect had in his possession was a match for the bolt missing from the Toyota’s transmission.
Only this time the driver was able to go on his way after the tow truck driver put the bolt back in the transmission.
San Leandro police Lieutenant Robert McManus said of the case:
“This is a perfect example of how officers and rely on information from our community to solve crime. Without this partnership and Officer (Brian) Buss’ persistence, the owner of the Toyota would have been forced to pay costly towing and repair fees.”
Police are not releasing the name of the 54-year-old suspect because they’re trying to determine if he scammed even more people.
San Leandro police investigators are asking anybody else who may have been victimized by the missing bolt scheme to contact them.