Volume 81, Number 1 | June 2 - 8, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Other bike shop owners vouch for George Philbert, above, of Bikes by George.

‘Dateline’ clip gears up the debate over stolen bikes

By Aidan Gardiner

NBC’s “Dateline” is set to release an in-depth look into bike theft in the East Village exposing, among others, Bikes by George. But some are saying that the clip is sensational and obscures the complexities of the story.

In a recently released promotional clip meant to drum up anticipation for a forthcoming exposé, Chris Hansen, known for exposing alleged criminals, confronts Dominic Philbert of Bikes by George, a stalwart East Village bike shop.

Hansen hired an actor to sell the shop a supposedly stolen bike. The confrontation quickly became heated when Philbert vocally denied Hansen’s accusations, swatted at the cameras, and shoved members of the “Dateline” crew.

The clip quickly spread on the Internet and among the Village biking community. Many eagerly condemned both the shop and Philbert as criminal. Others, however, approached the situation with more skepticism.

Local blog EV Grieve called the clip “local gotcha TV news at its worst.”

George Philbert, Dominic’s father, founded Bikes by George in the 1970s, and many nearby bike shop owners have vouched for him.

“He’s always worked hard,” Joe Mal of Busy Bee Bikes said of the elder Philbert. “He’s provided for his family. He’s never been a person that would purchase stolen bikes.

“George would never do a thing like this,” Mal said. “He’s been around a long, long time, but unfortunately, he’s got a son who’s got a problem.”

According to both Mal and George, Dominic was embroiled in a similar controversy about a year ago when he allegedly sawed through a tree in order to swipe a stylish bike and sell it to another bike shop.

In the recent “Dateline” clip, Dominic initially denies that he ever bought a stolen bike. He tells Hansen in a loud voice that the supposed thief had brought the bike in for repairs. Subsequently, however, Dominic confirmed to this newspaper that he bought the bike, but also pointed out that the clip doesn’t show the full context of the transaction.

“They totally set me up on that,” he said. “[The] guy said he was out of a job and needed to feed his kids.”

According to Dominic, he purchased the bike for his own personal use because he didn’t want the supposed thief or his children to go hungry. Dominic said that he asked the man to walk the bike over to a nearby street pole in order to demonstrate that the bike was not intended for the shop.

“They don’t show none of that in the segment,” Dominic said. “It’s horrible.”

George said that business hasn’t slowed because of the most recent incident, but that he’s still deeply upset by it.

“I don’t know what to say,” George said. “Right now, I’m debating what I should do with Dominic — if I should lay him off or [something else] because, really, he shouldn’t do something like that to bring the business down.”

George plans to hold a family meeting soon with his son and figure out how they should proceed. He criticized his son saying that Dominic, 42, wasn’t acting his age, yet added, “He’s a good worker.”

As part of the investigation, the “Dateline” crew also approached at least two other nearby bike shops, including Busy Bee Bikes and Landmark Bicycles. Employees at both Busy Bee and Landmark said they turned away the crew because it is against each shop’s policy to purchase stolen merchandise.

Bike theft remains a problem in the Village and throughout the city. George Bliss of Hudson Urban Bikes in the West Village said the trend is confusing, in part, because he doesn’t know anyone who deals in stolen bikes.

“It’s a complete black hole,” Bliss said. “To whom are they selling the parts?”

According to Bliss, the police can’t stop bike theft because it’s so difficult to track, so the responsibility to prevent the crime is in the hands of the bike’s owner.

“I would say almost every day somebody comes in who’s had their bike stolen. You know what I say to them?” Bliss added. “Better lock next time!”

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