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A West Seattle restaurant owner and four other suspects entered pleas of not guilty to charges that they were part of a crime ring that stole liquor from grocery stores.

The case is one of the first in King County to target organized retail theft of liquor since hard alcohol went on sale in grocery stores.

Eduardo Morales-Cardenas has owned Puerto Vallarta restaurant on California Avenue in West Seattle for 20 years.

He s now charged with trafficking in stolen property. Prosecutors say he paid four drug addicts to steal liquor at grocery stores all over King County.

We ve definitely noticed a lot more liquor theft since liquor s been in grocery stores, said Deputy BJ Myers. He not only investigated the case, but many of the suspects hang out in the White Center neighborhood Myers patrols.

A lot of the thieves that we identify stealing liquor or other things from the grocery store we know because they commit other crimes as well, said Myers.

The four thieves charged in the Morales-Cardenas case fit that bill.

Eric Richard Olson has a long criminal history, including a conviction for child rape. Michael Allen Jensen has more than 80 arrest warrants in his criminal file. Amber Vincent and Shaye Benjamin Glenn-Nitschke are also charged.

All the suspects are charged with Organized Retail Theft, a provision in the law that carries harsher penalties than a typical shoplifting case.

Morales-Cardenas is free after posting $500,000 bail. The other three men remain in jail.

When King County Sheriff s detectives raided Puerto Vallarta in late September, they seized hundreds of bottles of liquor from a back room in the restaurant.

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