When a Spring Garden man finished serving his probation on charges that he had broken into numerous cars, he evolved -- organizing a team of five men driven by their addiction to heroin to steal electronics and other goods from cars for him, police said on Wednesday.
And when officers arrested 34-year-old Anthony Mieglitz, he taunted them, saying, according to one detective, "If I didn't want to be caught, I wouldn't have been caught."
Pittsburgh police obtained warrants on Wednesday to arrest Mr. Mieglitz, his brother John Girvin, 27, and Richard Phillips, 20, in connection with a combined 55-car break-ins across the city -- which police said were among 1,027 thefts from cars between January and June of this year. Two other men -- Joseph Pail, 27, and Joseph Vidnic, 19 -- were being held at the Allegheny County Jail Wednesday night, and a third, Brandon Hulboy, 20, was arrested and had posted bail.
Detectives from the city's Zone 2 station in the Hill District began investigating a rash of thefts throughout Smallman Street and Liberty Avenue in July. One by one, they interviewed the men and pieced together a highly organized operation run by Mr. Mieglitz.
In groups of two or three, the men would scour the area looking for cars that had valuable items such as laptops, GPS systems or sets of golf clubs in plain sight. At least one of the men told police the victims "deserved what they got."
In other cases, they would look for signs that someone had invested extra money in their car -- tinted windows, fancy rims -- and shatter a window in hopes that high-end electronics would be inside, police said.
In exchange for money or drugs, the men would sell the goods back to Mr. Mieglitz, who then tried to pawn them at shops such as Trader Jack's in Kirwan Heights or Rossi's Popup Market Place in North Versailles, police said.
"I don't know if we thought of him as a drug dealer," Detective Bill Churilla said of Mr. Mieglitz. "He used that as a tool to get them to do what he wanted."
But as time passed, tension built among some of the suspects, police said.
"One day there was a falling out where Jonathan Girvin was selling the items without them and keeping the money," Detective Churilla wrote in a criminal complaint. "This caused fighting between them and that's when Pail, Hulboy and Phillips went out on their own, and that's when Joseph Vidnic became involved and started breaking into cars with Girvin."
Police used that tension to their advantage.
One of the suspect's mothers, nervous that her son had used her red Monte Carlo on some of the break-ins, told Zone 2 police that her son and four other men were breaking into cars, according to a criminal complaint.
Police interviewed the men and learned that they often worked in teams of two or three, with one of the suspects often high in the back seat, police said.
By combining their accounts, detectives were able to close about 55 of the thefts. Zone 2 Cmdr. Eric Holmes praised the arrests as an example of solid detective work, noting that this "was a more organized set of break-ins."
Still, Detective Churilla said, because the suspects' memories are foggy, police may never know how many cars they broke into.
"Unless they're going to admit to it," he said, "it's very hard to get someone."