Guard your gym shorts.
ALL THE LOCKER ROOM LURKERS
More than three dozen suspected thieves have been cleaning out Manhattan health clubs, busting locks and snatching cash and valuables as victims work out, the NYPD says.
The group is responsible for a yearlong rash of rip-offs, hitting just about every gym locker room from Battery Park to Washington Heights, cops said.
There was a surge of break-ins over the holidays, prompting a grand-larceny task force to put out a poster featuring photos of 41 alleged offenders. Police have distributed the poster to precincts across Manhattan.
Victims include sports agent Steve Herz, who reps Mets GM Omar Minaya and whose $7,000 Panerai diving watch was swiped from the Reebok Sports Club on Columbus Avenue in May.
Many of the scoundrels have multiple arrests.
The rogues' gallery includes Carl Francois, who got nailed red-handed at the New York Sports Club at 151 Reade St. back in 2007, when he got into the gym using a member's ID and emptied several lockers, according to police.
Francois, who has been busted nine times for various crimes, had an NYSC membership, the poster said.
There's also angel-faced beauty Kristin Schultz, a 31-year-old parolee with three larceny arrests, two burglary busts and multiple drug charges on her rap sheet. She's been in and out of jail since 1998.
Craig Demeo, with three larceny arrests and two for identity theft, is currently wrapping up a four-year stint in state prison and is due out in July, a jail official said.
Police cautioned that none of the people on the poster is wanted and that some have never been convicted of a gym theft, though all have at least one arrest for the crime.
Equinox and NYSC have been hit more than other clubs, according to cops.
Thefts have long plagued health clubs. One thief was nailed in 2001 after grabbing a $30,000 Super Bowl ring that the owner bought at an auction and left inside a locker at a Bally's Fitness. The suspect was collared but the ring was never found.
The problem became a priority for the NYPD in 2008, when the Manhattan South Grand Larceny Task Force took on sticky-fingered gym rats. It previously had focused on pickpockets.
The unit developed an expertise in locker thefts and now conducts CompStat-like sessions every two months with reps from precincts across the city, showing photos of suspects and explaining their common techniques.
"We provide health clubs with information, including photographs, on individuals who have broken into gym lockers before," said police spokesman Paul Browne.
"We also warn clubs to deny them day passes because thieves will purchase them to gain access to the locker rooms."
The sneaky snatchers often come in dressed like regulars ready for a workout. They frequently use stolen credit cards to buy one-day passes at bigger gym chains like NYSC. The pass allows them access to multiple outlets, and they hit as many gyms as they can until the pass expires.
Once inside the locker rooms, the thieves quickly scout around for gym members with expensive bling. Fancy watches are a primary target, cops said.
"They go for high-end items like Rolexes, and they work all over town," a police source said.
Some of the thieves can quickly bypass combination locks by jamming thin pieces of metal into the devices.
One female suspect who got nabbed stunned investigators by showing them she could open 10 locks in three minutes.
Others bring in bolt cutters hidden in gym bags, then wait until no one is watching and clip locks.
In many cases, that isn't even necessary.
"A lot of people don't use locks," said a fitness instructor at the Manhattan Plaza Health Club at 482 W. 43rd St.
Gym managers say they repeatedly remind their members to be careful.
"I always recommend that everyone get a high-end lock," said Dennis Tan, manager of Gold's Gym at 250 W. 54th St.
Tan said he noticed a spike during the holiday season.
The thieves "probably feel people are carrying a lot of money on them," he said. "They probably also need the money then, too."
Health clubs are not allowed to have security cameras in locker rooms, due to a state law forbidding surveillance in areas where people have an expectation of privacy.
By REUVEN BLAU and BRAD HAMILTON