Minnesota men’s gymnastics team stars in its own version of “to catch a thief”
By Jesse White, Athletic Communications Student Assistant
It can be among a student’s worst nightmares.
While the Minnesota men’s gymnastics team enjoyed some much-deserved time away from the grind of being student-athletes over the recent winter break, the Dinky Town house that many members of the squad call home had an unexpected visitor and it wasn’t Kris Kringle.
Five gymnasts, including senior team captain Sergei Dmitriev, were victims of a holiday heist that included the theft of two laptop computers and various home electronics items.
“At first I really thought I was out of luck,” said Dmitriev. “I didn’t have any insurance to cover what was stolen, so I just kind of tried to forget about it and started thinking about how I was going afford to buy a new computer. Honestly now that I think about it, the worst part is that I lost all of the music that I had on my computer.”
The next day, senior team captain Steve Vuong had the idea to search the online advertising web site, Craig’s List, to see if the stolen property had been posted. It was a long shot, but sometimes long shots pay off.
“I was bored one day, and I thought that it was worth a shot to see if the guy who robbed us was dumb enough to put the laptop on Craig’s List,” Vuong said. “So I searched Toshiba laptops and we found one that we were pretty sure was Sergei’s.”
Dmitriev was informed of the discovery and he promptly called the number listed in the ad. After a few days of waiting, a man returned his call and the two agreed to meet at a Dinky Town coffee shop.
The unsuspecting thief, however, had no idea that Dmitriev wasn’t trying to purchase the computer, but instead was only trying to identify it so he could inform the authorities.
What followed was a sting organized by the Gopher gymnastics team that would have made even Robert Redford sit up and take notice.
“I was really nervous even calling this guy, never mind meeting him,” recalled Dmitriev. “He posed as an athlete for the U and he even showed up in a letter jacket. It was actually kind of funny because we both gave each other fake names, and the coffee shop we met at had one of our gymnastics posters in it with my face right on it, which of course we sat down right next to.”
The alleged burglar brought the wrong computer to the meeting, and when Dmitriev inquired about the one he saw on Craig’s List, the man responded with an invitation to his house, the place where he said he was keeping that computer.
Dmitriev decided it would be best to leave the brass knuckles and baseball bats and home and decided to follow the guy back to his house.
“That was the hardest part, knowing what to do in that situation,” said Dmitriev. “I had no idea what to expect. He might have a weapon or he might have other guys at his place to back him up. It was a pretty crazy situation. We toyed around with the idea of showing up at his place with eight guys and demanding our stuff back, but in the end we decided it would be better to call in the police.”
Dmitriev nervously followed the man back to his place, which turned out to be right across the street from the crime scene. The man retrieved the computer from his room and showed it to Dmitriev, who immediately recognized it as his own, right down the serial number.
“The plan was to text the other guys across the street to let them know to call the cops,” said Dmitriev, who admits that calming himself down was probably the hardest part about the whole operation. “(The police) arrived pretty quickly and luckily the guy just took off through the back when he saw the cops were knocking on his door because I had no idea how he was going to react with me there.”
The sting helped police discover a cache of stolen goods in the man’s room, including other laptop computers, guitars and several XBOX game machines that allegedly had been acquired in other burglaries.
Although the coupe lacked the style of fake moustaches, code names, walkie talkies and lookouts, it got the job done. Unfortunately for the victims, the stolen property cannot be recovered until it passes through the legal system, and Dmitriev said he is unsure how long that will take.
But as a student who currently resides in Dinky Town, I know I can sleep a little safer at night knowing that the University of Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics team is out there cleaning up the streets.