Motorcycle Thefts Spike in Downtown Miami's Condo Garages

For months, savvy residents at downtown and Brickell high-rises have been on the lookout for the "White Van Gang." The criminals get their nickname from their favorite method: driving a white van into condo parking garages, loading up as many motorcycles as they can fit into the back, and then calmly driving off with the loot.

The thefts are on the rise as condo towers fill up — and because many garages are guarded by little more than easily lifted mechanical arms. Some residents complain managers won't pony up for stronger gates, while police say without better safeguards, the thefts are tough to stop. At least one condo manager, though, says understaffed police are to blame for the crime wave.

Caught in the middle are guys like Patrick Putignano, a Milanese IT technician whose Ducati Hypermotard — a sleek speedster that can retail for up to $15,000 — was boosted May 31 from the garage at Latitude on the River, a tower on NW Seventh Avenue.

"I'm pretty pissed off at our management," Putignano says. "They did a cost assessment for a real gate and decided it wasn't worth it for the dozen or so people who own motorcycles."

Latitude's manager, Lisa Doran, hotly disputes that claim. After the first theft in January, she says, the building doubled its security spending, pressured police for an extra patrol, and hired another guard to watch the garage. The building is looking at changing its gate, but structural concerns with the garage offer limited options.

"We absolutely take our security very seriously," she says.

Miami police say 35 motorcycles have been stolen since the crime spree started around January. Substandard garage security is partly to blame, according to department spokesman Napier Velazquez.

"Problems we have noted at buildings like [Latitude] include the poor quality and placement of surveillance cameras, and [lax] security and valet parking procedures," he writes in an email.

Doran, though, says police are misdirecting the blame. "We've taken all possible precautions," she says. "It seems to me they're finger pointing... Downtown is disgracefully understaffed."

Putignano says he just wants to know that his bike will be safe. "Who wants to live in a building where you know thieves can march into the garage and take your motorcycle?"

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink