By Andrew J. Campa Staff Writer – July 4, 2023

‘They didn’t deserve this’: Venice wine store picks up the pieces after $600,000 heist

Store owner Nazmul Haque estimates that 60% of his high-end inventory was stolen — a total estimated loss of $600,000. The security cameras captured this white pickup truck during the burglary. (Nazmul Haque)

Some customers offered hugs and condolences. Others doubled their orders and said they would be back soon.

The stream of clients entering Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice on Monday offered a sense of “normalcy” for owner Nazmul Haque two days after a thief broke in and made off with roughly $600,000 worth of product.

“To lose 10, 15 year’s worth of work overnight is devastating. I’m not sure if I will recover emotionally,” Haque said.

The extent of the loss was apparent Monday. Drawers normally filled with bottles sat empty, as did most of the store’s 55-degree wine cellar.

Shattered glass from a broken display had been swept up, and a 5-by-3-foot hole in the roof of the cellar had been patched with plywood.

At about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, security cameras captured a figure — apparently a man, wearing a mask, black hoodie and red-billed baseball cap — entering the store’s parking lot in a white pickup truck that was missing a license plate.

The person climbed atop storage containers to reach the store’s roof. A hole was cut through the ceiling directly into the wine cellar, and the thief lowered himself in with a rope, according to Haque.

Over nearly four hours, the thief emptied out most of the cellar.

The burglar hauled away many of the shop’s pricier Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, according to manager Nick Martinelle.

One stolen bottle of Chateau Petrus 2016, for example, retailed at $4,500. Also taken were brands from the Corton-Charlemagne family, including a 1994 vintage, a 2008 Bonneau du Martray, a 2018 Louis Latour, a 2019 Domaine Roulot and a 2020 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey. The value of each of those bottles ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

“It took me years to build up that collection,” Haque said.

Haque estimated that 60% of his high-end stock was stolen — a total loss of about $600,000.

“I’ve been working on a list of missing bottles, and that price could go up by the time I’m done,” he said.

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Some valuables were spared, including a 1975 Glenfiddich “Rare Collection” single-malt whiskey valued at $9,000.

Martinelle said the cellar was filled with stackable crates that the burglar used to enter and exit the store throughout the early morning.

Some security cameras and sensors were disabled by an unknown party earlier in the week, he added.

One sensor was tripped at 4 a.m., which led the security company to call Haque’s home. Haque said he did not hear the call and responded when he received a text message from security at 4:15 a.m. He was at the store within 15 minutes and believes he may have stopped the burglar from taking more.

“There were a couple of crates abandoned on the roof, which makes me think he heard me coming,” Haque said.

Haque and Martinelle said they hoped to complete a list of stolen valuables to distribute to local wholesalers, buyers and auction houses.

“There are some unscrupulous buyers out there who will purchase a bottle of wine with no questions asked,” Martinelle said. “We just hope that if the wine does come up, we’ll be alerted.”

One customer opined Monday that the burglary was an “inside job.” Haque said he would not speculate.

“We’re going to take all evidence to law enforcement and let them do their job,” he said.

He did say, however, that “whoever did this was very knowledgeable of the diagram of the store.”

Easily accessible bottles — including recognizable but less pricey offerings like Dom Pérignon Champagne — went untouched, while more secure drawers were cleaned out.

“It’s been difficult,” Haque said, adding that he would speak with an insurance adjuster Wednesday. “Happily, the community has come supported us.”

Haque said 200 people stopped by Sunday, about twice as many as usual. Another 150 had dropped in Monday as of 4 p.m.

Among them were Venice resident and longtime customer Rebekah Haraczka, 45, who felt compelled to send well wishes to Haque and his employees.

“This is a community store that has served us well, and it’s heartbreaking that this happened,” said Haraczka, who purchased a $15 red. “I just want to help.”

Another resident, Elisa Meyer, said Lincoln Fine Wines has been a welcoming place since she moved to Venice in 2003.

Meyer intended to pick up a single bottle of wine as part of her monthly wine club allowance. She instead walked away with four.

“I believe in helping out such a wonderful business,” she said. “They didn’t deserve this.”

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Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is a private investigator and founder of Tristar Investigation, California’s premiere detective agency. Bruce is also a media commentator for the investigation industry, featured in the New York Times, CNN, History Channel, MSNBC, Los Angeles Times and many more. You can find him on Google+ LinkedIn and YouTube.