Modesto business owner faces charges in wine theft from O’Brien’s

A north Modesto business owner faces charges of possession of stolen property and conspiracy related to the theft of more than $1,000 in high-value wine from a grocery store, Modesto police report.

Gregory Pringle Lambert, 52, was arrested July 22 after an investigation of several months indicated he was “facilitating the thefts.” A search of his Standiford Avenue business, California Card Shark, also turned up stolen property, said Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves.

California Card Shark, in the shopping center at the southeast corner of Standiford and Sisk Road, carries sports cards, gaming cards like Pokémon, and memorabilia. A shop employee said Tuesday afternoon that Lambert is on vacation out of town.

The woman who answered the door at Lambert’s home in the Dutchollow area said simply that he was unavailable. Lambert resides just more than half a mile from the store he is accused of victimizing: the O’Brien’s Market at Dale Road and Pelandale Avenue.

Lambert kept coming into the store. A manager heard him say (on his phone), “Yeah, they have the good stuff here. It’s on.

Chuck O’Brien

Graves said Lambert was not personally stealing the wine but using others to do so, then buying it from them. He texted messages and photos he took of the products he wanted stolen, she said. Many of the wines were priced at or near $100 a bottle.

O’Brien’s owner Chuck O’Brien said he and his staff suspect the thefts occurred probably the entire third quarter of 2015. They came to light when staff noticed the wine inventory was being depleted and a store manager in January caught a woman stealing, he said.

The manager detained Turlock resident Margaret Farmer, then 55, who was heading for the store exit with six bottles clinking in her purse. A police report says the stolen wine that day totaled more than $400.

Farmer, who was found in possession of methamphetamine, was cited for theft and possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. She named Lambert as the one who sent her to the store to steal. “Margaret said in her cell phone there were pictures and text messages from Greg telling her that the wine was not locked up,” the police report reads. That Jan. 25 report names Lambert as a suspect and lists the business address of his card shop.

O’Brien, who said he hired a private investigator to help build the case against Lambert, emailed The Bee dozens of photos of text-message exchanges between “Greg Card Shop” (showing one of the California Card Shark phone numbers) and Farmer, and possibly other people. One photographed message, also noted in the police report, reads: “All those pictures were from Obriens on dale not locked up on the shelves real easy to grab.”

Another string of messages says: “Grey goose ... Crown ... Grand mariner ... Patron silver ... Will pay 20 on all of those ...”

At the time of her Jan. 25 citation, Farmer signed a no-trespassing letter promising not to return to O’Brien’s, Graves said. But on July 7, she again was caught putting wine in her purse. She again was confronted, but this time struggled with the store employee, Graves said. Farmer initially faced robbery charges. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of petty theft and possession of methamphetamine.

The report on Lambert’s arrest later in July doesn’t indicate what he is accused of doing with the wine, Graves said. Not all that he is believed to have received was recovered at his store. But one of the photographed text-message exchanges suggests selling something on Craigslist.

Text messages and information gathered by O’Brien’s investigator indicate the theft ring involves half a dozen or more people and goes well beyond stealing wine, O’Brien said. He noted a message directing a thief to Sports Authority to steal a specific $300 pair of athletic shoes, for which he’d pay $25 or $30.

“He steals from businesses all over town and sells what he steals on eBay,” O’Brien said, adding that he turned over his investigator’s findings to police in May. Text messages the grocer provided list other items sought by and offered to “Greg Card Shop”:

▪ A list of makeup reads, in part: “Urban decay blush/eyeshadow, Chrome by Azarro, Smash box step by step contour set ...”

▪ “Are you interested in some top choice meat from Trader Joes? (Reply: “Heck ya”)

▪ A reply to another offer of meat reads: “meat probably is a no sorry you have had it for days and with all the bacteria that crap gets I’m gonna have to pass.”

▪ “I have some Lego’s”

▪ “Got some new Legos and a few bottles of wine. You want to deal with it tomorrow?”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327