Homer Police last week charged a Canadian man with shoplifting wine from a local liquor store — very expensive wine, it turns out. Eric Laurence, 37, of Montreal, Quebec, faces two counts each of second-degree theft, a felony, and two counts of third-degree theft. Police arrested Laurence and he is being held at Wildwood Pretrial Facility in Kenai.
According to charging documents, Grog Shop liquor store owner Mel Strydom on Aug. 30 reported to police $2,009 of expensive French wine had been stolen. Strydom showed Office Jacob Ruebelmann a surveillance video of a man with shoulder-length brown hair taking a 2005 Guigal La Turque worth $536.43 from the Grog Shop’s wine room.
Strydom said he checked surveillance videos after noticing expensive bottles of wine missing.
“We’ve got cameras everywhere,” Strydom said.
The videos showed the same man taking wine on four days from Aug. 14 to Aug. 24. The five bottles of wine stolen ranged from a 2003 Pichon-Longqueville worth $267 to the Guigal La Turque. Strydom said the man spent a lot of time in the wine room looking at the wines.
The stolen wines had reviews posted on them and two were rare wines that scored 100 points in the Robert Parker wine ranking system. All were priced, he said.
“They were meant to age at least another 30 years,” Strydom said of the rare wines.
Strydom said the man in the video usually came in the evening at busy times. He had a messenger bag and put a bottle in there. Twice he also bought a six-pack of beer and on other occasions just walked out of the store. He also could be seen in videos looking at expensive single-malt Scotch whisky, but did not take any, Strydom said. The whisky shelf is visible from the front counter.
Police arrested Laurence after he returned to the Grog Shop on Aug. 31. An employee recognized him from the video and asked for his identification when he went to buy beer, Strydom said. The employee called police and at about 7:50 p.m. Lt. Will Hutt and Ruebelmann found Laurence across the street from the Grog Shop on Pioneer Avenue.
They asked Laurence to come to the police station to talk about the reported theft. In a criminal complaint, Ruebelmann said he recognized Laurence as the man in the video.
Hutt said Laurence had been visiting Alaska and staying at a local organic farm as a “woofer,” or travelling farm worker, under the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program. Police served a search warrant on the cabin where Laurence stayed. They did not find any of the bottles reported stolen, but did find another bottle of wine, Hutt said.
Hutt said when Laurence arrived, he had an expensive bottle of wine he shared with the farm owner that he said he brought from Canada. The farm owner was very cooperative with police, Hutt said.
Homer Police notified Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Laurence entered the U.S. legally. No ICE action is being taken against Laurence pending the outcome of the case.
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