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    Five charged in celebrity auto thefts

    Cars belonging to Warren Sapp, Dwight Gooden and Shaquille O'Neal were stolen from a car audio shop in Tampa, authorities say.

    By GRAHAM BRINK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


    TAMPA -- The thieves could not have guessed that each of the shiny foreign cars they had stolen from a high-end automobile electronics shop belonged to Warren Sapp, Shaquille O'Neal, and Dwight Gooden, three of the biggest names in sports.

    "It appears that they broke in to get stereo equipment, saw the cars and decided to take them, too," said Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Rod Reder. "They wouldn't have known whose cars they were driving away in." According to Sheriff's Office and Tampa police reports, Sandy Bishop, 22, Adam Neuman, 21, and James Seagraves, 17, broke into Auto-Extras at 8006 Anderson Road in the Town 'N Country area at 2 a.m. on Aug. 18.

    The shop, which installs stereo systems that cost thousands of dollars, counts among its clients sports stars and big-time entertainers such as the Backstreet Boys' Nick Carter.

    The three men cut a chain-link fence and entered the showroom through a locked door, where they retrieved keys to the cars, authorities say.

    The men retreated when the burglar alarm went off but later returned and drove away with the three cars. A flat tire forced them to ditch O'Neal's Mercedes within a mile of the shop.

    Tampa police officers found Gooden's Lexus near Seventh Avenue and 22nd Street at noon the next day. It had been driven into a tree, causing extensive damage. The driver, who police later identified as Seagraves, ran from the car. A passenger, Matthew Garcia, 19, also ran, but was caught by police.

    At about the same time, Sapp's Mercedes was seen in the area. The police chased it and caught the car after a minor traffic crash. The Mercedes had a banged-up left front bumper but no serious damage and was towed back to the Auto-Extras shop. Further investigation led detectives to arrest Bishop, Neuman and Seagraves.

    Police also found a Glock handgun on the floor of the Mercedes, but did not know whether it belonged to Sapp or someone else. Reder said it would not have been illegal for Sapp to have a gun in the car if the gun turns out to be his.

    Sapp, 27, a Tampa Bay Buccaneer who was named the NFL's defensive player of the year last season, told reporters Thursday that his car hadn't been stolen. He made the statement as he walked out of training camp and did not offer any explanation.

    The car, however, is registered to a Warren Sapp with the same middle name and birth date as the football star, police reports said. The owner of the shop told reporters that it was Sapp's car.

    Dwight Gooden's wife confirmed that it was her husband's Lexus that was stolen. Gooden, a former Tampa Bay Devil Ray and member of the New York Yankees, grew up in Tampa and lives in St. Petersburg.

    O'Neal, a Los Angeles Laker who once played for the Orlando Magic, still has ties in the area.

    Bishop faces six counts of grand theft, grand theft of a motor vehicle, armed burglary, burglary of a business and grand theft of a firearm. Police arrested Neuman on burglary of a business, six counts of grand theft, armed burglary and criminal mischief. Seagraves faces aggravated fleeing and eluding, criminal mischief, grand theft, burglary of a business and grand theft or a motor vehicle.

    All three were in jail Thursday.

    Also charged was Jessica Johnson, 18, of Tampa, who was was with the others when they originally broke into the business, police said. She was dropped off at a different place before the others went back and drove away in the stolen cars, police said. She faces one count of burglary of a business.

    Garcia faces burglary and grand theft charges.

    - Times staff writer Roger Mills contributed to this report. Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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