TEMPE, AZ — Tempe police say a Valley man responsible for the theft of nearly $22,000 in tailgates is behind bars.
Authorities arrested Christopher Paul Janicek, 36, near 48th Street and Baseline Road earlier this month.
Police say Janicek is suspected of stealing the tailgates at Arizona Mills Mall and other locations in Tempe.
A Valley elementary school music teacher was a victim but decided to take matters into his own hands.
Jared Bader teaches kindergarten and fourth-grade music and recently saved up to buy a new truck. "I got it about a year ago, it’s a  Chevy Colorado," said Bader.
When Bader was pulling out of his Tempe driveway earlier this month, he noticed something was missing. "I got out, went around and nope, my tailgate was gone," he said.
After calling the police, Bader talked with a friend, who suggested he check online for his stolen property.
"So I went on Craigslist and I found a Chevy Colorado silver tailgate, and I thought huh, that’s one red flag," said Bader.
Bader said the second red flag was that the tailgate seller wanted to meet less than two blocks away from the scene of the crime.
"I was pretty nervous walking up," said Bader, who put on a hat and sunglasses. "I had a fake name and came up with this backstory."
Bader told police that Janicek was waiting out front. "He had the tailgate right there. And I’m looking at it, and I’m thinking, I’m almost positive that is mine," said Bader.
With his friend watching from the street, Bader bought back his own tailgate. "I gave him the $60. And he goes, '$60 for a tailgate, that’s a steal!' And I though, yeah, literally," recalled Bader, chuckling.
"I got the tailgate home, put the key in. It turned. Of course, confirming that it was my tailgate," he said.
Bader let Tempe police know what happened. Turns out, police have been working a "tailgate theft ring" since December 2018.
They charged Janicek with 17 felonies and two misdemeanors.
Detectives wrote in court paperwork that Janicek was caught on surveillance video stealing tailgates from the mall. And that he listed tailgates on Craigslist and OfferUp using the same phone number each time.
One woman, like Bader, found and bought back her tailgate from Janicek back in February. It is unclear if she notified police at the time, or why it took another two months to track down and arrest him.
Tempe police told ABC15 they applaud the resourcefulness and detective work by Bader, but urge the public to always call police with any investigation information. They say never meet up with a suspected criminal in person.
If you are looking to get a tailgate lock, you can find them in many retail stores or online for under $20.