Ty Swenson
The owner of the Puerto Vallarta restaurant and bar located in West Seattle's Junction shopping district is facing felony charges for allegedly trafficking in stolen alcohol.

Puerto Vallarta owner charged with trafficking stolen liquor

The owner of a Junction restaurant and bar known by locals for serving stiff drinks at a fair price is facing felony charges in King County Superior Court for allegedly trafficking stolen alcohol taken from retail grocery stores.

Eduardo Morales-Cardenas, owner of the Puerto Vallarta, was charged with first degree trafficking in stolen property and first degree attempted trafficking in stolen property. Four alleged accomplices were charged with the same, in addition to organized retail theft. Charges were filed at the end of October.

Cardenas, 46, was arrested by King County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Sept. 26. Cases upon cases of alcohol were removed from the bar and placed into a moving van that day before being driven off to an evidence locker.

Others charged include Amber Camille Vincent,22, Shaye Benjamin Glenn-Nitschke,24, Eric Richard Olson,51, and Michael Allen Jensen, 41, who allegedly stole alcohol from numerous grocery stores throughout King County and sold it to Cardenas.

The following details are summarized from a certification of probable cause submitted to the court by King County Sheriff’s Office Deputy BJ Myers, who also happens to be the White Center Storefront Deputy.

KCSO began their investigation in March of 2013, and the Sheriff’s Office said, “This investigation has revealed that Eduardo Morales-Cardenas has knowingly been buying stolen alcohol from the (other) defendants, and that Morales-Cardenas has resold some of this alcohol to others and has transported some of this alcohol to restaurants he owns and operates in Seattle.”

The investigation accounted for over $15,000 in alleged thefts, according to court documents.

It appears the investigation took off in April of 2013 when KCSO gained authorization to put a tracking device on Jensen’s personal vehicle. They followed him for a month and tracked over 40 different grocery store stops, along with several stops to a West Seattle home owned by Cardenas.

Undercover detectives also used video and live surveillance to observe alleged transactions between Cardenas and his co-defendants where Cardenas was seen “transporting what appeared to be alcohol from the detached garage (at that home)” to Puerto Vallarta.

On May 7, detectives said they observed Jensen hitting a number of grocery stores from Mercer Island to Kirkland to Issaquah and Factoria. According to charging documents, he then drove to a South Seattle location where where he met up with two males driving a truck registered to Cardenas. Undercover cops watched as heavy fabric bags were transported from Jensen’s vehicle to the truck.

According to probable cause documents, the ring of thieves were generally brazen in their thefts, filling large bags full of liquor before simply walking outside without paying. In one instance, Jensen and Olsen allegedly stole almost $1000 in alcohol from a single Kirkland grocery store. At an Everett Costco they allegedly made off with $1500 in the hard stuff.

On August 28 an undercover detective approached Cardenas at his West Seattle home and, posing as an alcohol thief, allegedly sold their suspect eight bottles of booze valued at $367 for $140 in cash that Cardenas, according to the court, had his 12-year-old son retrieve from the restaurant.

The alleged ruse started to crumble in May when Jensen and Vincent were arrested for theft outside a Kirkland Safeway. During questioning, both defendants allegedly described how they stole and then sold the alcohol to Cardenas, who they identified as the owner of Puerto Vallarta in West Seattle. When Olson was arrested in October, he claimed he stopped selling Cardenas stolen alcohol, but continued to sell him stolen “meat and shrimp.”

When Cardenas was arrested on Sept. 26, court documents show detectives recovered a letter from Jensen warning Cardenas that a police investigation was in the works.

After his arrest, Cardenas “admitted to buying alcohol from Jensen and others (knowing it was stolen) … (but) denied using this liquor in the operation of his restaurants, but admitted that he delivered the stolen alcohol to other people,” according to charging documents.

Prosecutors recommended a bail amount of $500,000 for Cardenas despite no prior criminal history, but for allegedly being the “head of an active theft ring …. (and) because Morales-Cardenas owns several restaurants in the area and is believed to be very affluent.”

Jail records do not show Cardenas in custody as of Nov. 8. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 18.

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