Spirited away: Police in Utah say booze bandits stole up to $30k in top-shelf bottles
Jan 5, 2024, 6:55 PM | Updated: 6:59 pm
SALT LAKE CITY – Some people have a champagne taste and a beer budget, although most don’t end up raiding a liquor store in the dead of night.
But police in Utah say that’s exactly what happened in November and December. Up to $30,000 in high-end merchandise vanished from a pair of state-run liquor stores in Salt Lake City and Riverton.
Now investigators say their leads have dried up in Salt Lake City, and they need the public’s help.
“This is a targeted situation. It wasn’t, obviously, a crime of opportunity,” said Salt Lake City police Detective Michael Ruff. “In this case, we’ve kind of hit a dead end. We think somebody out there may know something, simply because it does seem to be a unique circumstance.”
It wasn’t just any missing merchandise, but the special-occasion stuff: Single-malt scotch. Pricey champagne. Top-tier tequila. Bottles with labels like Clase Azul, Cristal, and Macallan. All were carried off from the liquor store in Riverton, 13332 S. Market Center Drive, and another in Salt Lake City, at 1605 S. 300 West.
That’s in addition to a $5,000 bottle of cognac lifted from the Salt Lake City store, acquired in preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“There’s a lot of unique product missing,” Ruff said.
Police don’t know where it went. But they believe it’s potentially being sold either in person or online, and they say the separate thefts have a lot in common.
KSL had to file open records requests to find out more. In Salt Lake City, the bottles went out the door on Nov. 4, 2023 at approximately 4:15 a.m., with two people wearing dark clothes and gloves, their faces covered, according to a police report obtained by KSL.
In less than five minutes, $15,000 – $20,000 of bubbly and other bottles vanished from the store’s locked display cabinet, police records state.
At about the same time on Dec. 6, 2023, a similar crew of two raided the Riverton store, according to the records obtained by KSL.
The pair is accused of prying open the front doors, spray-painting over an outside surveillance camera, wheeling in a handcart, and making off with 135 bottles. The estimated wholesale cost of the haul was $5,000, and double that in retail value, a Riverton police report states.
Surveillance video from nearby businesses showed that after both heists, the suspects pulled away in a white vehicle that may be a Chrysler Pacifica, police said.
“The van, suspects, and modus operandi matched Salt Lake City’s burglary,” the report states.
And the break-ins caused damage to the stores themselves, to the tune of $5,000 in Riverton and about twice that in Salt Lake City.
Utah’s liquor stores are state-run. In response to questions about storage and security measures, along with who’s paying for the damage, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Service — called DABS — sent KSL a statement saying the cases containing high-end products “use similar protections as other retailers, aligned with national standards.”
DABS spokeswoman Michelle Schmitt said the agency’s top priority is the safety of its employees and customers, so it’s a relief the burglars weren’t there at the time of the burglaries and no one was harmed. She said insurance will cover the cost of replacing the products, along with repairs and additional employee hours spent on cleaning up and restocking.
“The type of burglaries that occurred are unusual for the DABS, particularly in the targeting of high-end products,” according to the statement. “The department is committed to always looking for security improvements to best protect employees, customers, and products.”
Tiffany Clason, DABS executive director, told staffers in the governor’s office the thieves were savvy, writing to them in an email that “this looks like a well-organized, planned and sophisticated job.”
KSL obtained copies of Clason’s correspondence with other public and law enforcement officials through a public records request. The records show that DABS estimated that the stolen products from the Salt Lake City store totaled $40,000.
Police point out that if the state hasn’t authorized a person to sell liquor in Utah, doing so is a crime. They say even buying stolen booze is against the law. Detectives in Salt Lake City are asking anyone with information to call them at 801-799-3000.