King County Prosecutors have charged five people with liquor theft using little known laws targeting “organized retail crime.” One of those charged is the owner of a long-time West Seattle business that investigators say was buying the stolen liquor.
Charging documents released Monday say Eduardo Morales-Cardenas is the head of the crime ring. He owns the Puerto Vallarta restaurant on California Avenue in West Seattle.
Investigators say he directed three men and one woman to hit the liquor aisle in grocery stores all over King County. The crew would then bring the stolen booze to Morales-Cardenas who would buy it for pennies on the dollar. Investigators believe he then sold the liquor in this restaurant.
Last month, the KING 5 Investigators revealed that grocery store chains have been using their own private investigators to track the Morales-Cardenas ring and others like it.
The retail theft investigators use the same surveillance and investigative techniques that drug investigators use to track the ring members and the flow of stolen liquor.
This type of investigation provides prosecutors with evidence that these are more than simple shoplifting cases. The charge of Organized Retail Theft is a felony that carries harsher penalties upon conviction.
In the charging documents, King County Sheriff’s Deputy BJ Myers says the ring has stolen more than $15,000 worth of liquor. Sheriff’s deputies and private investigators witnessed many transactions. The documents also say that an undercover officer sold liquor to Morales-Cardenas.
Last month, when asked by KING 5, Morales-Cardenas denied that he ever purchased stolen liquor.