Former liquor distributor charged in restaurant theft schemeA Hastings restaurant was one of one of at least five businesses in Hastings targeted in a theft scheme involving a former liquor distributor. This week, Hastings Police charged Stephen Lamers, 40, Owatonna, with nine felony counts of theft by swindle (over $2,500, aggregating). Lamers allegedly stole more than $35,000 from April 2007 to August 2011 from the Hastings restaurant.
By: Jane Lightbourn, The Hastings Star-Gazette
A Hastings restaurant was one of one of at least five businesses in Hastings targeted in a theft scheme involving a former liquor distributor.
This week, Hastings Police charged Stephen Lamers, 40, Owatonna, with nine felony counts of theft by swindle (over $2,500, aggregating). Lamers allegedly stole more than $35,000 from April 2007 to August 2011 from the Hastings restaurant.
According to the criminal complaint, Hastings Police first learned about the theft scheme in the fall of 2011 and began their investigation. It led to Lamers, a liquor distributor who worked with the restaurant. He was also the sales representative who worked with another bar in Farmington, and a chain of restaurants located in three locations in Dakota County. Lamers was responsible for making weekly visits to the establishments to make sales, to set up displays, and to complete orders.
Businesses would place orders for liquor by either a regular order or a “will call” order. Regular orders were delivered by delivery trucks. The driver would provide an itemized list to the customers. “Will call” orders were picked up by the sales representative to be hand-delivered by them to the customer. An itemized list would be provided to the sales representatives to provide the customer upon delivery.
Lamers would place “will call” orders for a customer and pick up the order at the liquor distributor warehouse. He would sign the invoice at the warehouse loading dock for the liquor, receive a copy of the invoice, and the distributor would receive a copy for its records. Lamers would not deliver the product to the customer and then would sell that product for cash to other customers.
The invoice amount would then be billed to the customer and the amount for the invoice and the invoice number would be reflected on the statements. Lamers would then provide those statements to the customer or just verbally tell them the amount due for the distributor. The customer would issue a check for the amount provided by Lamers. If the customer did not track, compare and verify their statement balance provided to them by Lamers against their invoice, they would not be aware they were possibly paying for liquor they did not receive.
The Hastings restaurant was on Lamers’ route. The restaurant would usually put together their order listing all the items they needed to order. They would give a sheet to Lamers. Lamers would then transfer the information to the distributor sales order form.
The restaurant was on a 30-day credit for payment schedule with the liquor distributor. When it received a delivery, an invoice was provided for it. The invoices were kept in a storage area and not provided to the accountant. Lamers would write a figure or amount at the top of the distributor sales order for or provide it verbally to the restaurant and a check was issued for the amount. They trusted the information provided by Lamers.
The restaurant realized there were issues with their liquor costs, but could not determine where the losses were coming from. Cameras were installed inside the business to monitor staff to determine if alcohol was being sold by staff or customers and was not being charged. Internal factors were ruled out.
In the middle of 2011, the Farmington restaurant began to have issues with Lamers and contacted the distributor. The restaurant questioned why they had not received credit for broken bottles and returned items, and why the balance was still outstanding. They questioned why they were billed for items never ordered.
The distributor did its own investigation and learned that the Farmington restaurant had stopped ordering from the distributor because of issues with Lamers. Payment had been received for an order that the Farmington restaurant did not make.
Police also spoke to the owner/manager of the three other restaurants. There were some issues with “will call” orders. The owners said that the statements from the distributor were never checked with the invoices.
In November 2011, Hastings police went to Lamers’ home to interview him. Lamers told police he was “getting killed in pricing” so he would use the liquor taken from one business to make deals in other places. He said he sold some of the liquor for gas.
A review of the records involving Lamers’ accounts with the distributor revealed that from 2007 to 2011, Lamers stole in excess of $35,000. The total amount of his theft was $70,000.
Lamers is scheduled to appear in Dakota County District Court at 8:30 a.m. Monday, May 21.