When Laguna Woods Village resident Dennis Hannan, 73, noticed his golf cart was missing from his carport, he called his daughter, whose husband is in law enforcement. Within minutes, the New Yorker found it featured in an Orange County Craigslist post.
“Of course,” Hannan said. “The one time I leave it unlocked, somebody takes it.”
The same morning, Hannan brought his findings to Jerod Morgan, salesman and cart builder at Cart Mart in Lake Forest, where he had purchased the cart. It turns out, Morgan had stumbled upon the same ad.
“I see this all the time,” Morgan said. “But I’ve found them online on three different occasions.”
The first instance was a simple relinquishment, where Morgan tracked the cart down and the seller claimed he didn’t know the vehicle was stolen. The second time, Morgan was too late. The cart had already been sold.
This time — with Hannan coming forward — would be the tie-breaker.
“We just felt like we needed to do something,” Morgan said. “I’m not taking this sitting down; Let’s go get it.”
The listing was located in La Puente, about 50 miles from Laguna Woods. After having no luck over the phone with authorities across the board — from Laguna Woods Village and Orange County to Los Angeles county — the two drove to a sheriff’s department substation close to the stolen cart location.
“The interaction with law enforcement was disappointing, and I wasn’t about to walk into anybody’s gun,” Hannan said. “Let’s walk in there and let them know we’re not fooling around with this thing — somebody’s got my cart.”
That’s when detective Erik Coker of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department stepped into the case.
Arriving at the seller’s home, Morgan and Coker decided to swap roles, with the deputy assuming the role of the interested buyer and Morgan the tagalong. They even agreed on a code Morgan would say once he identified it to be Hannan’s cart.
Having built the cart himself, Morgan could easily spot the unique half cover and tan-ostrich seats embroidered in a pattern custom to his partners in Rancho Mirage, who did the upholstery work.
“This is a good deal,” Morgan said — cueing their code. The jig was up.
Here’s where the plot thickens: Not only was Hannan’s golf cart found at the seller’s home, but a second one — reported stolen from Laguna Woods Village on Dec. 18, the day before Hannan’s went missing — was there as well.
The carts were taken from inside the Village, off of Via Serena N. and Via Buena Vista, according to Lt. Gene Inouye, chief of police services in Laguna Woods.
Morgan recalled the carts being grossly undersold: the $11,000 carts were priced at $5,900 each.
Back at the station, the carts were taken to a sheriff’s impound lot. Though the two detectives-for-a-day ended the chase by 9 p.m the same day, Hannan had to return the next day to pick his cart up, shelling out $700 to cover LA Sheriff’s Department impound fees and transportation with tow truck.
“It wasn’t a cheap deal to get it back,” Hannan said, noting that the owner of the other stolen golf cart found during the investigation had to pay $1,500 to cover costs.
Although this story ended well, Laguna Woods Village Security Chief Tim Moy advised against civilians pursuing their own cases.
“Typically we prefer residents to work through us,” Moy said. “We want to make sure we protect our citizens.”
Moy said he wished he and his team could have been more involved, but once an incident occurs outside of the Village, it’s out of their hands. Once notified, they filed an incident report and reached out to a sheriff’s department investigator, who was preoccupied with another case at the time, Moy said.
Moy’s team provided security footage from Gatehouse 7 of two men leaving with Hannan’s golf cart in an unmarked truck around 8 a.m. on Dec. 19.
One person has been arrested by Orange County deputies, the department said.
Moy noted that stolen golf carts are a “pretty rare occasion,” though it’s an easy crime to pull off. He noted that most carts come with a generic key — so it’s important to use a wheel or steering wheel lock when parking and recording the unique serial number, just in case.
Hannan has since looked into what he thinks may be a local ring selling stolen golf carts in different cities via Craigslist, all linking back to a single email made up of an indecipherable mix of numbers and letters.
“It’s very disturbing,” Hannan said.
Hannan has advanced from a steel-fiber cable locking mechanism for his cart’s steering wheel to a heavy-duty chain for protection.
Source: Orange County Register