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Mechanic charged in massive marine-unit theft probe

A 43-year-old marine mechanic is accused of stealing from 10 different marinas across the Lower Mainland.

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

Vancouver's police marine unit has arrested a man after one of the largest criminal investigations in the unit's history, with the number of alleged victims at 18 and climbing, and the value of the apparent thefts at $300,000.

Frank Jerry Cutajar is charged with more than 40 counts of criminal offences, including theft, possession of stolen property, fraud, and uttering a forged document. The 43-year-old marine mechanic is accused of stealing equipment from across the Lower Mainland, including 10 different marinas. None of the allegations against Mr. Cutajar have been proven in court.

During a news conference at police headquarters Monday, Constable Lindsey Houghton alleged Mr. Cutajar stole small boats, motors, and fishing rods – sometimes from his own clients – then sold them online. The police spokesman advised the public against spending thousands of dollars to purchase items through online classifieds, such as Craigslist.

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"If you purchase online items from an untrusted source without doing any due diligence, you may find yourself not only the victim of a crime but you may – as is the case with many of the victims – find yourself out a significant amount of money because you are in possession of stolen property and we will be seizing it from you," Constable Houghton said.

Mr. Cutajar was charged in January with possession of stolen property under $5,000 after an incident in North Vancouver. RCMP in that jurisdiction alerted Vancouver police, who say they were able to link the accused to the theft of a boat, trailer and outboard motor a few weeks later.

Police were then led to a property in Richmond, where they discovered 10 outboard motors and a generator.

Constable Houghton said that in late February, Mr. Cutajar, who was under surveillance at the time, was allegedly caught selling a stolen outboard motor. He was released from custody and has been ordered not to be found at a marina or dock.

Detective Phil Ens, who joined Constable Houghton at the news conference, said police expect more charges to be laid against the accused. The force also expects to hear from more alleged victims and is investigating leads as far away as Vancouver Island. No further arrests have been made.

Detective Ens said some of the people who purchased items online were initially suspicious. Outboard motors can cost several thousands of dollars and police say the alleged victims were paying considerably less online.

Detective Ens said marine theft is quite common in Vancouver, because of its waterfront nature. However, he said this investigation is the largest he can remember, because of both the number of alleged victims and property.

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