At about 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 22, Vincenzo Cartiera hurried out of his Spring Valley home. He was running late to work.
“Is that my car — where are the wheels?” he asked himself that Friday morning. “No, you gotta be kidding me.”
His 1998 Nissan 240SX was sitting on the ground propped on a red brick and the parking lot wheel stop.
“Then I called my roommate down,” he continued. “I didn’t want to leave the scene, in case the thieves were still around. The car had dew all over it because it was cold that morning, but the disc brakes didn’t, so it looked like the rims and tires were just stolen.”
(Cartiera and I spoke on December 9; he just got off from his job as a commercial manager for a local auto parts store.)
“Bro, then I looked into car windows and a close-by truck,” he said, “sometimes, thieves hide tools or parts close by.”
“Bro, weren’t you scared that you were being watched by the perps,” I asked; “Man, I was more in shock, and angry,” he responded.
“When my roommate came down, I called my insurance and they told me to call the police to file a report.”
Cartiera said he was shaking as he snapped the incriminating photos. “Look Mike,” he explained as he simultaneously texted me screenshots of correspondences and photos, “they fucked up my Vertex bumper and side skirts, and it may not look like much, because the car’s in different colors (black and white), but that front bumper is from Japan.”
“JDM (Japanese Domestic Market)?” I asked.
“Yeah bro,” he responded, “I waited, forever for that front bumper.”
The perp(s) initially propped Cartiera’s under construction “drifter/show car” on bricks to remove the wheels, then the car collapsed and damaged a fender, bumper support and aftermarket body parts, as it settled to the cement.
“Everyone be on the fucking look out for my Enkei Aegis wheels,” Cartiera posted underneath the photos of his Facebook and Instagram accounts that Friday morning. “Woke up to go to work to this [and] I’m so fucking pissed.”
“How much are the rims and tires worth?” I asked him; “About $2,500, but mine were scuffed up. They are 3-piece wheels, even though they are curved and beat up, as-is, you can sell them for $1200-$1500.”
(Later in the day, he would see his stolen rims and tires on the OfferUp app for $1200.)
“I told Edwin, the owner of YOHB, “Can you share this please?” Cartiera said. “And he shared my post on his Facebook and Instagram. Even though it seems like it’s a really small [deal] to re-share it — with how many people that view his pages and respect Edwin, that goes a long way.”
YOHB is a social media brand and the local car scene’s digital hub. In the past, YOHB helped in the promotion of the Extreme Autofest Lifestyle Festival car shows and the RaceLegal events at the former Qualcomm stadium parking lot; now the account’s pushing the “cars n paws” and “cars and elotes” car meets.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many cars were recovered after YOHB posted [alerts] of stolen cars in our community,” Cartiera said. “One time an Acura Integra was stolen then reported on YOHB; 2 hours after it was found, but already stripped.”
By about 10 a.m., Cartiera received his first tip via direct message. “Before the cops even came,” he said, “I was contacted about my wheels [allegedly] being for sale.
“It took the sheriff’s department about 2 hours after my initial call — to show up and investigate. It wasn’t a regular sheriff, it was a community service officer. She was older and referred to them as “tires” and I had to correct her saying “they were rims and tires.” She was nice and professional.”
“How many times did your social media post get re-shared?” I asked him; “About 70 times,” he responded.
After Cartiera made the police report, he and his roommate drove around following the leads called in, texted and direct messaged to him.
“People were messaging me saying “I think I found your wheels” and “Call me ASAP,” he said.
Then there were the non-helpful ones.
“Why no lugs with a key,” questioned a fellow-tuner, “[You] should have just put a sign on the car that said free wheels (followed by four ‘laughing hysterically’ emojis).
“There were trolls too, bro. I don’t know why some people are posting shit about it being funny, I daily drive this car and I can’t get to work until I get another set of wheels,” Cartiera said. “But most were helpful, about ten individuals offered me their rims to borrow so I can go back to work; I didn’t even know some of them.”
“Man, that’s why I got locks on mine that are big enough you can’t get anything around them,” posted a Bobby underneath Cartiera’s incriminating photos, “while they’re in the wheel and they have a unique lock pattern.”
Cartiera said that wheel locks slow down wheel thieves, “but they can grind them off if they really want them.”
Cartiera and Bobby were speaking of tools and tricks used by tire shops that remove stuck wheel locks. Another way to remove a wheel lock, supposedly, is to force a smaller socket on the lock, and attempt to spin it with a cordless impact wrench — but in doing so, the wheel’s finish might be damaged.
“I was on the phone with the police and the insurance the whole time, while my roommate was driving around,” Cartiera said, “and I was getting messages on Facebook and texts at the same time. Then I get a voice message: “Hey, I believe these are them.” Then he tells me the specs of them and the mismatched brand of tires. The guy tells me the [other] guy that has them, and that they go way back in high school and he said to me: “I don’t wanna give you his name.”
“I’m now thinking, I dunno if he’s the one selling them, or doing it for a friend, or he’s trying to trade them off, eventually. I was confused.”
At 3 p.m. Cartiera received a photo of his stolen wheels.
“By now, other people find out who he is,” he said, “and they told me it was on OfferUp as well.
“I ask the guy on the other line: “Did you just post this?” and then the OfferUp post goes down in like 5 minutes, and he was like, “I can’t see it anymore” — that’s a strange coincidence.
“It was posted by Xavier with 255 followers. They were selling my rims and tires for $1200.”
Cartiera later found out that his friends and the car community were direct messaging the person Cartiera was texting and direct messaging with.
During our interview, Cartiera said he wasn’t sure if he was the same “Xavier” on OfferUp.
“I hit up the guy on OfferUp through Whatsapp, and my messages weren’t going through.
“Then like at 7 p.m., he was saying he’s setting to meet up with the guy with my rims and tires. He asked me to meet at El Cajon, then at 43rd Avenue. And then he said: “Can you meet me at the YMCA in Alpine?”; then I told him “there is no YMCA in Alpine,” then he said he’ll drop off the wheels at the alley by the dumpster in Viejas. It was like a wild goose chase for a few hours.”
Cartiera and three buddies drove around town following the tipster’s leads and other leads that were coming in from social media — until 4 a.m.
“I was so tired, I texted him saying: “If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll go back to the sheriff, and he keeps apologizing saying he feels bad and he’s trying to do what he can.”
“But he’s in constant communication with you?” I asked Cartiera; “Yes, he was,” he responded, “but it was the runaround, and it was getting old.
“Look, he realized that he messed up. Whether it was him or someone else, he made a mistake, and he was trying to make good, and it could be because he was the one who originally did it, and he realized he couldn’t sell them or trade them, and especially if his name was going to be blasted all over the place about it and being in a car club.”
On the social media feeds, the tipster’s car club name was dropped a few times, but Cartiera requested that our outlet “not publish” the name, because “they have nothing to do with this guy’s decision, whether he took my rims or not. I later spoke to the vice president of the car club on Nov. 27, and he told me the guy I was communicating with was still a prospect, and not a full-fledged member and they will do whatever to help me.
“At about 10:30 a.m. that Saturday, he Facetimes me standing in front of my wheels and I can see his shoes. Then at 11 a.m. he said he's putting the wheels in his car.”
Screenshots of their correspondences were taken and saved.
“At 1:40 p.m., he shows up to the alley where my rims were stolen,” Cartiera said.
This is now about 30 hours after Cartiera initially found his wheel-less “import tuner.”
“He was like: “I didn’t come with anyone, and I’m all by myself,” Cartiera continued. “He said, if you guys need to beat me up, we can get down and scrape, but it’d be nothing. I just wanna let you know that I didn’t take your wheels, and I will do what I can to clear my name and make good about it.”
Cartiera got his wheels back and they spoke for about an hour, and parted ways.
“Now, I just want him or his contact, to cover my $1000 deductible if insurance will pay for the damage,” he said. “Now if insurance doesn’t cover it, I have to figure out how much the shop will charge to fix it.”
Just hours before Cartiera’s rims were stolen, Crimemapping.com reported about a motor vehicle theft and a vehicle break-in/theft — close to Cartiera’s home. The crime mapping-site’s data is “always verified for accuracy” and is pulled on a regular basis from law enforcement’s records systems throughout the U.S.
“You never post pictures of where you actually live,” Cartiera suggested to other car builders. “And never post your license plate, the thieves can find out where you live.”
Regarding the “young man” who returned the stolen rims and tires — “I never met a guy that will do whatever it takes to make things right,” Cartiera said.