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Clayton wine store owner says priest returned thousands of dollars of wine on behalf of accused thief

By Caroline Hecker

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — A Clayton wine store has recovered thousands of dollars in expensive wine after the owner said a priest returned it days after News 4 published surveillance video of the accused thief in action.

“It was a slow Monday and I saw a priest come in with a big box and set it on the front counter and I came over to let him know I’d be with him in just a second,” said Jason Main, Owner and President of The Wine Merchant. “He stopped me right there and said, ‘look, I need to make a return.’”

Main said the priest then told him the man that wanted to return the wine wasn’t coming into the store and that he was not going to answer any questions.

“There was a big industrial shipping container with a manila folder duct taped to the top and inside was a two-page apology letter and inside the container was all of the wine that was stolen,” Main said.

The week before, Main captured a man on surveillance video browsing several bottles of expensive wine inside the store. The video captures the man kneeling down and appearing to put bottles into a reusable bag, before getting up and walking out of the store.

“Me and the other employee just started yelling like, ‘what?! This can’t be happening…this is the wine,’” Main said. “This customer was shopping near where the wine was stolen and goes, ‘is that from the news story? Is that all the wine?!’”

Main said the wine was returned in perfect condition. The apology note indicated the man had fallen on hard times and was selling the wine to private buyers at a discounted rate. He noted, “I felt terrible,” and “I felt awful,” but also indicated he wanted to resolve the issue without “cops or lawyers.”

While thrilled to get his wine back, Main said he’s angered to think other small businesses have been targeted.

“I think it is absolutely the lowest of low to prey on small family-owned businesses,” he said.

The owners of The Wine and Cheese Place in Clayton believe the same man targeted their store earlier this fall. According to Aaron Zwicker, co-owner of The Wine and Cheese Place, the man made off with more than $3,000 in wine.

“I’ve been a lot more cautious about what boxes I’d be willing to open up, what wines I’m willing to put out on the floor because it just feels like we’re putting them out there for people to poach,” he said.

Zwicker said none of the wine stolen from his store has been returned.

A spokesperson for Schnucks told News 4 staff members prevented a large-scale theft last month at its store location at Lindbergh and Clayton Road. It’s believed to be the same person who is accused of stealing from both wine stores. The spokesperson would not disclose how much wine the man attempted to steal.

Main believes the man is involved in an industry where he has close ties to wine collectors or buyers. In the apology note, the man indicated he was confronted by a private buyer who saw the story, accused him of being a thief and refused to go through with the sale.

“If you know these wines are stolen and you have them in your cellar, you need to get them out of there and return them immediately,” Main said. “This is stolen property.”

Clayton Police told News 4 it is not commonplace to see a priest return stolen items for someone. However, Main said he believes the thief approached a priest in confession to ensure his identity or details about what happened would not be shared.

If you know anything about this case, please contact Clayton Police.

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