Eastside police departments are working together to investigate and identify who’s behind a string of locker room thefts happening at gyms, yoga studios and other athletic centers in the region.
Jim Molenda’s day at the gym on Feb.15 started out much like the others. He recalls spending time on the elliptical runner and other machines before moving onto pushups. But when he returned to gather his belongings from a locker at the Kelsey Creek LA Fitness location, his wallet was missing and along with it $500, medical cards and debit and credit cards.
A short time later, Molenda received an alert from Bank of America advising him that his credit and debit cards were being used at the Overlake Fred Meyer — 1.5 miles away. The fraudulent charges for $1,517 were declined.
A year or so ago his son’s cell phone was stolen from a locker at the same LA Fitness location, Molenda said. He set it in there while he sat in the hot tub, since bringing his device with him posed the risk of water damage. In just the few minutes it was in there, it was taken.
Molenda traced it a parking lot, but by the time he got there, the thieves had shut the phone off.
It wasn’t until a bit later, when Molenda began digging into his case, that he discovered a collection of many others who have had similar experiences in Bellevue. A public disclosure request revealed a majority of those who had their belongings stolen from the Kelsey Creek Gym had their locks removed, while others never placed a lock. Some reports showed car prowls at the location.
“The number is insane,” Molenda said. “It’s just crazy.”
In Bellevue, there have been 87 locker room thefts so far this year, said Meeghan Black, Bellevue Police Department spokesperson. Of this number, 31 occurred at the Kelsey Creek LA Fitness location at 15053 Main Street.
The Reporter reached out to the LA Fitness location about the crimes, but management declined to comment. They said they didn’t know “who to send [the Reporter] to talk to” and that “coming down from VPs, they were not authorized to speak” on the topic. The Reporter reached out to the LA Fitness corporate office in California but requests for comment were not returned.
When looking at the financial loss as a result of locker room thefts in Bellevue, from mid-April to mid-May, there was more than $14,000 in credit card fraud, Black said. That figure doesn’t include the value of other things that were taken.
Bellevue’s Special Enforcement Team, a group that focuses in on crime trends, is actively investigating several locker room thefts. Police suspect several groups are doing the crimes and hitting areas up and down the Puget Sound.
“It’s not just Bellevue,” Black said. “Every jurisdiction is reporting different levels of this activity.”
Bellevue PD is working closely with gym management and employees on how to protect the locker rooms and what they can do to increase security in the area. They’re also working with detectives of Everett, Mercer Island, Renton and Kirkland to stop the perpetrators.
At Mercer Island there have been two locker room thefts within the last six months, said commander Jeff Magnan, with the Mercer Island Police Department.
“Usually one or two people work in concert with each other,” Magnan said. “One person watches the doors and the other goes through belongings.”
Magnan said the PD has obtained some surveillance video but have yet to identify the subjects in the footage. It’s been shared with those at other law enforcement agencies, Mercer staff and with jail staff, in an attempt to figure out who was captured in the footage.
Locker room thefts are trending upward in Issaquah, said Paula Schwan, patrol commander for the Issaquah Police Department. And often, while people remain at the fitness location, their cards are being used at nearby businesses.
“It doesn’t matter if the lockers are locked or not,” she added, and remains unsure if the locks safekeeping belongings are being cut off or not, since the locks often go missing.
Locations that don’t require members check in at the front counter, or don’t require an ID card to get into the door, can be of more risk. Schwan said it doesn’t appear to be other members that are stealing, but rather people from outside.
For those planning on hitting the gym she warns “don’t bring (possessions) with you If you don’t need them at that establishment or keep them at whatever machine you’re using.”