June 25, 2009 in City

Spokane police crack cutlet cartel

By The Spokesman-Review

Patrons inside a Spokane Valley pub thought the meat salesman was legit when he walked into the bar a month ago selling frozen steaks.

“He had a little uniform on and sounded like he really knew his meat,” said Jackie Christenson, bartender at the Trend N’ Dale pub on East Trent Avenue.

Turns out the peppercorn steaks Christianson’s patrons bought from the man that night were stolen, and Spokane police say they’ve arrested the ringleader of a reportedly widespread meat theft operation.

Christopher M. Webber, 37, was booked Thursday into the Spokane County Jail on charges of leading organized crime, an unusual charge for Spokane, police officials said.

“There are more people out there,” and detectives will be looking for the getaway driver or the lookouts, said Jennifer DeRuwe, police spokeswoman. More charges will be coming, she said.

Detectives say Webber may have as many as five people working under him, maybe more. For the past three years, the individuals steal about to $1,000 of meat from local grocery stores each day, five days a week, and then sell it at local bars throughout Spokane for half the retail price.

The individuals have been caught on video surveillance at an Albertson’s store, DeRuwe said, although they hit several area stores. The meat thieves fill up a shopping cart with meat, and then find somewhat concealed spot in the store to put the meat down their pants “or somewhere else on their person,” DeRuwe said.

Webber will make his first appearance in court Friday. He declined a reporter’s request for an interview at the jail.

According to previous news reports, Webber has multiple theft and burglary charges dating back to 2000.

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