UPDATE 4/29/2014: CHS has agreed to allow Mario Villegas to provide the following statement on his role in the situation at Meza Latin Fare. It is presented without alterations.
Statement by Mario Villegas:
I have submitted this statement to clear my name of any involvement with the alleged criminal activity at Meza Latin Fare, as substantiated by King County court records, and to ensure this will no longer damage my reputation and clean record.
In the summer of 2011, CHS reported on alleged trafficking in stolen goods connected with Capitol Hill restaurant Meza Latin Fare. (See article below.) Restaurant founder Alex Meza told CHS that he had nothing to do with the activity police were investigating. Instead, Meza blamed me, who the article said was the new owner of the restaurant.
While I was investigated by the police, I was never charged with any crime. Instead, it was Alex Meza – under the name Luis Alejandro Meza – who ultimately confessed to the crime and pleaded guilty to second degree attempted trafficking of stolen property in March of 2012.
According to court records, Meza admitted to attempting to dispose of property stolen from an area supermarket, and entered a guilty plea on March 29, 2012 of attempted trafficking of stolen property in the second degree. As part of a deferred sentencing, Meza was ordered to pay a $500 Victim Penalty Assessment and complete 100 community service hours. The police report filed in King County Superior Court accompanying the guilty plea alleges that Meza resold two stolen bottles of Moët champagne during a “buy-back operation” at the 14th Ave restaurant and that Meza provided a “cooperating witness” with a list of items to steal from a QFC.
Here is a reprint of Meza’s handwritten, signed admission from court documents:
I also was not the new owner of the restaurant, as originally reported by CHS. Meza Management Properties LLC, aka Meza Latin Fare, owned and operated the restaurant and held the business license when the events reported by the CHS blog post took place. While I had made an offer to buy the popular 14th Ave business, I had withdraw the offer nearly a week before the police raid at the restaurant on June 21, 2011, due to unfavorable lease terms (the landlord planned to tear down the business space, as occurred in 2013).
A year later, in the summer of 2012, following Meza’s guilty plea to attempted trafficking, Meza’s restaurant suddenly and quietly shut down. Meza has since left Seattle.
The original blog post further stated that the arrest was part of a police investigation into citywide theft rings. In fact, there was no connection between the charges involving Meza and any organized stolen property ring. I was never charged with involvement in, nor was I ever part of, any theft ring.
CHS did not contact me for comment prior to running the story. My business attorney (who had personally witnessed Meza’s arrest) and I contacted CHS several times after the story ran with testimony and public records to refute the allegations. This information has not been published in the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog until now.
Original report: 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.