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Brazen thieves snag Bobcats from construction sites

  • Article by: Nicole Norfleet
  • Star Tribune
  • June 8, 2013 - 10:00 PM

At several thousand pounds and flanked by a backhoe and other heavy equipment, a Bobcat T590 mysteriously vanished from a Maplewood construction site last month and remains missing.

Skid-steer loaders and compact track loaders (one has wheels; the other has tracks) often simply called Bobcats in police reports after the popular brand name, are hot items to steal in the Twin Cities during the spring as construction season heats up.

Despite their size and the high visibility of sites where they are left unattended after work hours, it can be difficult for police to track Bobcats once they are stolen. The machines are quick to sell and can easily match the price of luxury cars ranging from $25,000 to $70,000 when new, making them worthwhile for thieves to steal..

Over the last five years, 22 Bobcats have been stolen in St. Paul, 10 from construction sites. Only one Bobcat has been recovered.

“It is an evolving construction issue that will continue to change,” said Sgt. Paul Paulos, a spokesman for St. Paul police.

Tom Paquette, a general foreman for Forest Lake Contracting, hadn’t known his company’s new $50,000 Bobcat had gone missing until late in the afternoon one workday.

“I sent someone over to get it, and it wasn’t there,” he said.

Forest Lake is the prime contractor for the construction project at the intersection of Hwy. 36 and English Street.

The contractor had taken several precautionary measures to try to deter would-be thieves including locking the cab’s door and surrounding the Bobcat with cargo trailers and other equipment, Paquette said. Each company has its own loss prevention system, which can only go so far in hindering thieves, he said.

“It keeps the honest people out is about all it does,” Paquette said.

Greg Urban of Urban Companies in St. Paul said that his company has had several Bobcats stolen over the years. Some of them were sold in North Dakota and were only found because farmers took them to be serviced and the serial numbers came up as stolen.

Bobcats don’t have VIN numbers or titles, and people seldom review the serial numbers before buying them, Urban said. “A lot of times they were getting sold so quick that it wasn’t even reported stolen at that time,” he said.

They can be sold at dealerships, auctions, and even on Craigslist.

“So many people want to use them,” Urban said. “If somebody has a cabin, they can use it. If they have a small business, they can use it. So many farmers want to use them.”

While blocking a Bobcat with other equipment is a common technique, Mike Fitzgerald, a Bobcat product specialist, also said owners can opt for display panels in which they can set codes in order to start the machines instead of using keys. There are also GPS systems to locate machines.

Potential buyers should be suspicious of machines that are too cheap, ask for service records and serial numbers, and check numbers with dealers to see if the machine was stolen, Fitzgerald said.

“A lot of it just plays back to common sense,” he said.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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