Austin restaurants busted for serving stolen meat



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Posted on July 28, 2011 at 6:48 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 29 at 10:58 AM

AUSTIN, TX -- Austin police raided three restaurants Thursday for allegedly buying stolen meat and serving it to customers. Those three stores include Sam’s BBQ on 12th Street, La Morenita on 12th Street, and Willie’s BBQ on MLK.

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department closed down all three businesses Thursday citing a public health threat.
Operation Meat Locker started when HEB approached the Austin Police Department about a growing number of meat thefts happening at stores in Central Texas and statewide.
HEB Loss Prevention Teams discovered a new trend in the crime community when they caught thieves stealing fresh meat products on a large scale.
Investigators say the thieves would hide the meat in their pants or backpacks. They would then walk long distances or ride the bus to sell the meat to restaurants. Detectives say food safety was not a priority.
“When we heard the volume going through, we knew this wasn't just two or three people stealing a couple steaks for their BBQ at home,” said APD Sergeant David Socha. “This was becoming, I want to say, almost a commercial enterprise.”
An informant told Austin police that three Austin restaurants would buy the meat knowing it was stolen.
APD conducted a three month covert operation throughout the City of Austin to uncover the crime. Officers posed as shoplifters and tried to sell meat to 25 stores citywide. Detectives say only three stores bought the stolen meat—Sam’s BBQ, La Morenita, and Willie’s BBQ. The operation resulted in $5,000 in stolen items being sold between the three locations.
Thursday morning officers involved with Operation Meat Locker served warrants on the three businesses and arrested five people, including the owners of all three businesses.
HEB’s surveillance team worked with the Austin Police Department on the sting.  
“Whether it’s $50 or $500, HEB takes that very seriously," said HEB spokesperson Leslie Sweet. "It was significant enough for us to invest quite a bit of time and resources. We can't allow it, we won't allow it, and we won't end until we don't have crime at HEB and surrounding our stores.”
A health inspector revoked each business' permit to operate, effectively shutting down each location. If the restaurants try to reopen without a permit, they will be fined.
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