EAGLE — Just two weeks before Robert “Mickey” Werner was arrested for stealing at least a quarter million dollars over a four-year stretch from a local liquor store, the owner gave him a $17,000 bonus for running that business so well.
Werner pleaded guilty to felony theft and will repay $250,000 he admitted stealing from Alpine Wine and Spirits, located in Vail’s City Market.
Werner could have gone to prison for three years and still might. If he has any more legal trouble, he goes back before District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman for sentencing. For now, though, the prison sentence is being deferred.
“The point is to make the victim as whole as possible,” Dunkelman said.
Rebecca Wiard, the assistant district attorney who negotiated the deal with Werner’s defense attorney, Jesse Wiens, called the deal “favorable” for Werner, known locally as “Mickey the Wine Wizard.”
Four years of theft
The thefts went on for at least four years, said Eric Kenealy with Alpine Wine and Spirits.
“I don’t think we’ll ever know the exact amount stolen, but it was in excess of $250,000,” Kenealy said.
“I hope he learned his lesson,” Kenealy said. “He admitted to me that he stole the money.”
That admission came after Werner was paid that $17,000 bonus.
“He was very well compensated,” Kenealy said.
Prosecutors say Werner also has about $400,000 in a retirement account.
Interestingly, Werner was supposed to hand over the $250,000 during Wednesday’s hearing. Wiens, his defense attorney, explained that Werner’s bank accounts were frozen.
Werner wrote a personal check for the restitution, but he was told the payment needs to be a cashier’s check. He couldn’t get a cashier’s check prior to Wednesday’s court appearance because the funds in his accounts remain frozen.
The money is scheduled to change hands Friday.
Kenealy was frustrated with the delay, but said he understood the bank’s position.
“I’d think the bank wouldn’t release the money to him because they’d be afraid he’d skip town, because he is a thief,” he said in court Wednesday. “I would ask that we make sure the check clears. A cashier’s check can easily be forged. I’m just concerned that the money comes back to the store.”
About his arrest
Werner’s scheme began to unravel on Feb. 2, when Vail Police Detective Nicola Erb met with a witness who wished to remain anonymous at that time.
The witness provided eyewitness accounts, receipts, inventory records, photographs and accounting records to show regular thefts were occurring, according to Werner’s arrest affidavit.
Werner was the only one with the access needed to commit the thefts, the witness told Erb, and said Werner did not have permission to deprive the business of funds beyond his salary.
Several days later, Erb met with Werner at the store and showed him all the evidence indicating that cash refunds were being made at the store almost daily — and that the cash was being funneled to him.
When he was arrested, Werner was carrying three bank bags. Two of the deposit slips in the bank bags matched the amount of the daily deposit. However, the third bag had a deposit slip — not specific to any bank — for $87. Werner is accused of pocketing the rest of the money from that bank bag and several others over the years.
Those two methods — cash refunds and altering bank deposits — were among the methods he used to steal at least some of the money, prosecutors said.
Werner was also carrying $1,239 in cash when he was arrested, plus four other folded packets of money containing a total of another $930. The four packets were stashed in various compartments of his wallet.
Werner was booked into the Eagle County jail on Valentine’s Day.
Following his arrest, Eagle County Court Judge Katharine Sullivan ordered him held without bond, to make sure he didn’t use any of the stolen money to bail himself out of jail.
High praise for police and prosecutors
Kenealy had high praise for the Vail Police Department the District Attorney’s Office and the local judicial system.
“They are highly professional and they pursued this case with the passion, that justice be done,” Kenealy said. “Without all three of the working together on this, justice would not have been done.”
The money to be returned will go back into the store, and the business is expanding its selection of wine and spirits in order “to better serve the Vail Valley,” Kenealy said.
The business doesn’t miss Werner, Kenealy said.
“Since we have a new manager, sales are up 20 percent,” Kenealy said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from customers about the changes. I think justice has been served.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.