By Jeff Bahr
An East Orange man whose highly collectable car was stolen on Jan. 8 near the Providence Sports Bar and Restaurant, Belleville, has retained a private investigator to aid in its recovery. The car’s owner, Latch Raghu, says that the vehicle, a rare black 1986 Buick Regal Grand National 2-door is worth somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000.
Raghu says he parked the vehicle near the bar at Heckle and Jeraldo Sts. at 4:30 p.m. and went inside. Somewhere between that time and 8:04 p.m. the car was stolen, he says. Most troubling to Raghu is the fact that he thinks he knows the person responsible for the theft – in part or in whole – but is having trouble making headway on that front. According to private investigator Joseph Blaettler, the Belleville Police claimed that their hands were tied at this point since they didn’t have “probable cause” to move ahead.
Blaettler, who believes that the crime was part of a premeditated plan, explained that Raghu had originally told friends that he’d be driving to the bar in his Dodge Viper – valued in excess of $100,000 – to meet them to watch a N.Y. Giants playoff game, but then decided to drive his Grand National instead. This tip-off that a valuable car would soon be parked outside of the bar set criminal wheels in motion, according to Blaettler.
A camera mounted on the outside of the bar shows the suspected thief with two other men beside him when Raghu walked in, said Blaettler. “Based on sources I’ve spoken to, he (one of the other two men present) might be involved in some shady activity. I gave that (information) to Belleville. Nothing, no response.”
“I understand there’s no probable cause right now to arrest him, to question him, anything,” said Blaettler of the Belleville Police Department reportedly not having questioned the suspected thief, “but that does not prevent the cops from picking up the phone or going to visit him saying, ‘hey, we’d like to talk to you.’”
In response to Blaettler’s comments, Belleville Police Sgt. John Loiacono stood firm on his department’s original determination that there simply wasn’t enough probable cause to move ahead with this particular individual. “I sympathize with the owner,” said Loiacono, “but we need more (evidence) before we can proceed.” Loiacono cited the loss of auto theft recovery units as a further impediment to locating stolen vehicles. We simply don’t have the resources to do (look for) stolen cars, “ said Loiacono. “
This was not a random theft,” said Blaettler. “Somebody went after this car, they knew exactly what they were doing. They knew how to bypass the alarm system, and they then felt very comfortable jumping into that car and driving away.”
The missing Gran National is a GNX model that’s even more coveted than typical offerings from the esteemed group to which it belongs, according to Raghu. “It’s number six of only 547 that were ever made,” said Raghu to underscore the rarity of the vehicle. As evidence to support this, and as an identification marker unique to this one particular vehicle, a plate on the car’s dashboard reads “006.” The vehicle ranks as “one of the fastest models produced,” according to Raghu, and has “scratches on the trunk” that might help in its identification.
Raghu, who didn’t carry theft insurance on the vehicle, is offering a “no questions asked” reward of $5,000 for information that culminates in the return of the vehicle. Those with any information concerning the car or its whereabouts have been asked to contact the Belleville Police Department, owner Latch Raghu at 201-513-6121, or private investigator Joseph Blaettler at 973-725-9677.