Motorcycle stolen 14 years ago returns from England to its home in Batavia
Mike Lullo kept the key tacked to a bulletin board in his office for years.
"I told my wife, 'I'm going to ride that motorcycle again.' "
Her response, "yeah, yeah, yeah."
Soon, Lullo will ride that motorcycle again.
The motorcycle in question arrived in Batavia last night and was uncrated outside his insurance office on Center Street this morning.
It's a 1969 BSA Rocket III, a highly desirable bike in its day that Lullo acquired in 1975 while attending college in Albany.
It was his primary transportation for awhile. He took it on some road trips, and on one of those trips it broke down.
Lullo took the bike into the basement of a building he owned and started repair work.
"It was at the time what’s known as a basket case," Lullo said. "It had broken down, had some engine problems and was being repaired. It was somewhat disassembled, so to the untrained eye it was just a bunch of parts, a frame with some wheels on it."
One of Lullo's tenants took it upon himself to sell the bike to somebody locally. It was some time before Lullo discovered the bike was missing and about 11 years ago, he reported it stolen.
The former tenant still lives in Batavia and recently told police, Lullo said, that he sold the bike because Lullo told him to clean out the basement and get rid of everything.
"Yeah, right," Lullo said.
Even if the former tenant admitted to stealing the bike, it wouldn't matter much now.
"The statute of limitations is only five years," Lullo said. "That was 14 years ago. There's no touching him at this point. I'm just happy to get the bike back."
The tenant got $150 for the BSA and it changed hands a couple of times before it was sold to a man in Syracuse for $200.
That buyer sold the motorcycle on Ebay last November for $3,350.
In March, one of Lullo's insurance customers came into his office and they started talking motorcycles.
Lullo mentioned he once owned a BSA, and the customer said, he once did, too. Lullo asked him to describe the bike.
"It was your bike, wasn't it, Mike?" the customer said.
With that clue, Lullo was able to find the guy in Syracuse who wound up with the motorcycle and sold it on Ebay.
At that point, Lullo recontacted Batavia PD. Det. Pat Corona got involved in the case and between the two of them -- Corona contacted Ebay for help -- they were able to track down the online transaction and the buyer in England.
The buyer in England is a retired fellow, Lullo said, who is quite into motorcycles and buys and sells parts on Ebay.
"He was a bit taken aback when he discovered he had purchased a stolen motorcycle and really didn’t want to give it back because he had invested a lot into the restoration," Lullo said.
The man shared receipts with Lullo showing $7,500 in work on the motorcycle.
The restoration project was never completed because once the man found out he would be sending the motorcycle back to the U.S. he stopped working on the project.
He returned the bike and all the original and restored parts, professionally packed in a well-constructed crate.
Lullo paid for the shipping and reimbursed the man in England for some of the restoration, otherwise, the man in England is out his purchase price and some of the restoration expense.
While Lullo expressed some sympathy for the man, he did buy a motorcycle without absolutely no documentation and once Lullo established rightful ownership the man in England, legally, had to turn it.
According to Lullo, because the buyer is in England, Ebay's buyer protection program doesn't apply to the transaction.
Proving Lullo owned the BSA wasn't necessarily easy.
Back in the 1970s, New York didn't issue title on motorcycles, so all he had was sales receipt and a registration. Those documents disappeared with the bike.
One of the things Lullo learned about the bike the man in England had was that it was missing a side panel.
When the bike was originally stolen, the thief and/or buyer left behind a side panel.
The paint job was a custom color and that color matched the color of the bike at the time the buyer in England received the motorcycle pieces.
That helped prove Lullo was the proper owner of the motorcycle.
Getting the motorcycle back to the United States proved problematic. It was shipped to England as motorcycle parts along with other freight, so there was no export record for a motorcycle, so to customs it looked like a new import. Lullo had to produce police records and other documentation to prove the bike was being repatriated to the U.S.
After not hearing from customs, Lullo called Newark and this time he apparently got the right guy on the phone who said simply, "Your bike is ready. Come and pick it up."
Immediately, Lullo jumped in his pickup truck and drove down to Newark to retrieve a very important connection to his youth.
After unpacking it today, he stood back, held his arms out wide and with a broad grin said, "It's back home."