(WSB photo, September 26, taken while law enforcers were searching Puerto Vallarta)
Six weeks after the arrest of Eduardo Morales-Cardenas, owner of Puerto Vallarta in The Junction, for allegedly buying stolen liquor, he is now charged with two felonies. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed charges against Morales-Cardenas and four others this afternoon; he is charged with trafficking in stolen property and attempted trafficking in stolen property. Prosecutors are asking that bail for Cardenas-Morales be set at half a million dollars, though he has no criminal history. He is scheduled to answer the charges in King County Superior Court two weeks from today. We just received the charging documents and are reviewing them now .
ADDED: Charged along with Morales-Cardenas are Amber Vincent, Shaye Glenn-Nitschke, Eric Olson, and Michael Jensen. Jensen, Olson, Glenn-Nitschke and Vincent are charged with 2nd-degree organized retail theft, with the victim named as QFC; Jensen, Olson, and Vincent face a second version of that charge, with the victim named as Safeway; Jensen and Olson face a third version of that charge, this time against Costco. The charges against Morales-Cardenas mention Safeway and QFC. Here’s what the charging documents say happened:
The charging papers say the investigation has been under way since March: “This investigation has revealed that Eduardo Morales-Cardenas has knowingly been buying stolen alcohol from the above-named defendants, and that (he) has resold some of this alcohol to others and has transported some of this alcohol to restaurants he owns and operates in Seattle. This investigation has revealed that over $15,000 of alcohol has been stolen by this criminal enterprise from grocery stores throughout King County and elsewhere.”
In April, the documents say, King County Superior Court Judge Richard Eadie authorized GPS tracking for Jensen’s personal vehicle, which over the ensuing four weeks “traveled to various grocery stores on over forty occasions. Another location that Jensen visited on a number of occasions was (a Junction house owned by Morales-Cardenas). Through live and video surveillance conducted by … detectives, we observed Jensen frequently carrying heavy bags into a detached garage at this address.” The documents say “video and/or live surveillance” of Morales-Cardenas was conducted as well, and that he and a pickup truck registered to him were observed involved in the transfer of seemingly heavy grocery bags from Jensen’s vehicle at 1st/Spokane late the night of May 7th, a day when the tracker showed Jensen’s vehicle at grocery stores on the Eastside, during which he was caught on surveillance camera in four shoplifting incidents involving 24 bottles of liquor.
The charging documents then jump to August 28th, when “a detective operating in an undercover capacity made contact with Morales-Cardenas at the detached garage at” his home on 42nd SW. “Posing as an alcohol thief, the undercover detective sold Morales-Cardenas eight bottles of alcohol valued at $367.92. Morales-Cardenas paid the undercover detective $140 in cash. Morales-Cardenas told the undercover detective he was surprised the detective could get Crown Royal, ‘since it is locked up at most places.'”
The court documents go on to mention an April 25th incident in which Jensen, Olson, Glenn-Nitschke, and Vincent allegedly stole $1,209 worth of liquor from a QFC store in Issaquah, adding: “Each of these suspects was recognized by store personnel from organized retail crime-alert postings on the Washington State Organized Retail Crime Alliance website.” An April 27th theft of 30 bottles worth $931, from a Kirkland Safeway, allegedly by Jensen, Vincent, and Olson, is mentioned, as is a May 12th $639 theft, also from a Kirkland Safeway and allegedly involving Jensen and Vincent, and a June 16th $1,582 theft at an Everett Costco, allegedly involving Jensen and Olson.
After the May 12th incident, the documents say, Jensen and Vincent were arrested, and “told officers that they sell the stolen liquor and other items to Morales-Cardenas. They both identified (him) as the owner of the Puerto Vallarta store in West Seattle. Vincent admitted to stealing liquor on numerous occasions with Jensen, stating that Jensen then sold the liquor to Morales-Cardenas. Vincent said that after a while she began selling stolen liquor directly to Morales-Cardenas. She had in her possession at the time of arrest one of Morales-Cardenas’ business cards, which has (his) cell number hand-written on it. Also written on this card is a list of items that Vincent says Morales-Cardenas wanted to buy from her.”
When officers searched the restaurant on the day Morales-Cardenas was arrested – September 26th – they found in his desk at the restaurant “a letter from Jensen warning (him) about the investigation” along with a copy of the business card, which investigators noted was obtained by Jensen along with a copy of the May 12th police-incident report.
The charging documents say that on the day he was arrested, “Morales-Cardenas admitted to buying liquor from Jensen and others. He stated he knew the liquor was stolen. He denied using this liquor in the operation of his restaurants, but admitted that he delivered the stolen alcohol to other people. Morales-Cardenas also said that at times (he used) money provided by a friend of his who owns a restaurant and that his friend would pick up the liquor later.”
ADDED 5:57 PM: The charging documents say that after an arrest in early October, Olson told investigators “he stopped stealing alcohol in the summer of 2013, but continued to steal food products such as meat and shrimp and continued to sell those items to Morales-Cardenas. Olson stated he often brought stolen goods to the Puerto Vallarta Restaurant.” Jensen is reported to have told authorities after a May 28th arrest that “there were restaurants in Seattle that were paying him ten dollars per bottle for stolen liquor. He specifically identified Morales-Cardenas as owner of the Puerto Vallarta Restaurant in West Seattle and as someone who bought stolen liquor from him. Jensen’s telephone calls from the King County Jail to Morales-Cardenas confirm their relationship, and indicate that Morales-Cardenas agreed to bail for Jensen on that occasion.”
According to our checks of the King County Jail Register a short time ago:
*Morales-Cardenas is not in custody
*Jensen, 41, has been in jail since August 12th, on a variety of charges and now in connection with this case, for which his bail is listed as $500,000. Prosecutors say 84 warrants for his arrest have been issued since 1993, and that his convictions include burglary, theft, drugs, and escape.
*Olson, 51, has been in jail since last Wednesday, on two warrants plus this case, for which his bail is listed as $500,000. Prosecutors say he is a convicted sex offender, robber, forger, and ID thief.
*Glenn-Nitschke, 24, has been in jail since September 26th, related to other cases as well as now on this charge, for which his bail is listed as $250,000.
*Vincent, 22, was jailed September 26th but released the next day, according to the jail register. She has no felony record, according to prosecution documents, but bail is requested at $100,000 because of factors including a record of misdemeanor thefts.
We are continuing to check court (and other) records beyond the charging documents obtained late today, and will update the story with any more information we find.
ADDED 7:15 PM: Before charges were filed, there was a hearing two weeks ago regarding the alcohol seized during searches the day Morales-Cardenas was arrested. The court documents include this 30-page list of what was seized. Documents we downloaded indicate he appeared in court at that hearing and there was no final decision, but instead this notation: “The Court will take testimony and evidence in this matter, but will reserve entering a judgment until (Morales-Cardenas’s lawyer) has time to present legal briefing on the right to segregate the seized alcohol and potentially return legally purchased alcohol to Mr. Morales.”