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: While he awaits word on the fate of the man he expected to buy and take over his 14th Ave restaurant, Alex Meza wants Capitol Hill to know he isn’t giving up.
“They didn’t find anything in my restaurant. They didn’t find anything on me,” Meza told CHS in a phone conversation late Friday night.
Earlier Friday, CHS reported that Meza’s new owner Mario Villegas had been arrested after allegedly selling two bottle of stolen champagne to undercover officers at the restaurant and being seen shoplifting from area stores on four occasions the week before his late June arrest. Authorities say the arrest is tied to Operation Super Boosters, a sprawling investigation into citywide theft rings.
Alex Meza said he is angry with the city for the way the Villegas arrest has played out for his restaurant but declined to comment specifically on his business’s status with the city. As of Friday, the restaurant’s City of Seattle business license had been closed though Meza has continued to operate.
Meza tells CHS that a deal had been struck to sell to Villegas but that it is now off the table. “With this situation, we don’t know if the sale will happen,” Meza said. “I could sell. But honestly, I love my place. I built it with my own hands.”
But CHS has learned that the alleged sale of stolen champagne isn’t the only issue SPD has investigated at the 14th Ave tapas bar. Meza has also been the location of late-night parties with cover charges and after-hours booze service. In his phone interview with CHS, Meza acknowledged that he fired his chef and other employees following an SPD visit where Meza said cops found “one glass of wine” being served after hours. Those events have been shut down, Meza said. “I’m not wiling to lose my liquor license,” Meza told CHS.
According to Alex Meza, he had no knowledge that the man who was buying the restaurant he founded two years ago was doing anything improper. Meza tells CHS that police interviewed him again on Friday following publication of the CHS report on the Villegas arrest. “The cops thought he might work for me,” Meza said. “Everything is legitimate. He needed to train so I was still here. He was doing something of his own accord.”
For Meza, he says he is watching a good relationship with somebody he trusted with his restaurant go sour. “I hand it to the new owner and he fucked it up,” Meza said.
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.