On a gorgeous summer solstice night, not a drop of sangria was served at the normally festive Meza on 14th Ave. In fact, the restaurant, which recently changed hands when founder Alex Meza announced he was moving to Los Angeles to join his plus-size model girlfriend, was closed, empty and dark. Earlier in the day, it had been full of people — but these weren’t customers. Seattle police officers and detectives combed through Meza last Tuesday night and new owner Mario Villegas was booked into King County Jail for investigation of possession of stolen property.
Police say Villegas was caught up in a sprawling investigation into a citywide theft ring involving suspected shoplifting teams and the resale of allegedly stolen goods.
The 41-year-old Villegas has not yet been charged with the crime but authorities say they are requesting charges against Villegas and others hauled in as part of the investigation in a series of busts that went down over the past week culminating in a flurry of arrests Thursday. Our partners at SeattleCrime have more details on the citywide SPD operation here.
Police say Villegas was caught selling two stolen bottles of Moet champagne during a “buy-back operation” at the 14th Ave restaurant. According to SPD records, investigating officers watched Villegas steal items from area grocery stores four times in the week leading up to the Tuesday night bust. The report also notes that a “confidential informant” provided additional detail on the trafficking. Cops say they saw Villegas transport the items to his E Yesler home — and sometimes directly to Meza.
What the situation will mean for the restaurant isn’t clear. According to the Washington State Department of Revenue, Meza’s business account was closed as of June 14th, the day of the buy-back operation. No business license comes up in searches of the City of Seattle database for either Meza or Villegas’s corporation, Synergy Spirits. Meza opened on 14th Ave in summer 2009 serving “Latin fare” and tapas under the helm of Alejandro Meza. Synergy recently showed up on the State Liquor Control Board paperwork for the restaurant indicating that reports we’d heard that the restaurant was being sold were true. The former owner Alex Meza had told nearby business owners he would be moving to Southern California following the sale but he has reportedly been at his namesake restaurant this week as it continues to operate on 14th Ave.
UPDATE 6/20/2012: CHS has been contacted by Villegas and informed that he was never charged with a crime in this situation. Villegas said he was not part of a theft ring.