In one of the more unusual crime capers of recent weeks, an enterprising crew of thieves with impeccable taste in fine wines tunneled into a secure high-end cellar in Nottingham, England, and stole as much as $65,000 worth of classic vintages, sport, and whiskey.
When the criminals were discovered in the basement, the store’s manager told The Daily Beast, they were celebrating their nefarious doings by shamelessly swigging Champagne from the bottle, before trying to pass themselves off as officials from the local council carrying out an inspection.
Among the missing items are believed to be bottles of Champagne once owned by the father of Jeffrey Epstein pal Ghislaine Maxwell, the publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell. The mogul had reportedly ordered in the bubbly to see in the millennium, but, after it went un-drunk, sold it off to a collector.
A senior manager at Vintage Wines Ltd. in Nottingham told The Daily Beast they were “embarrassed” by the theft and were now in the process of contacting celebrities and ordinary people who use the company’s storage vault for their high-price bottles. Many of the clients “were distraught.”
A collection of fine wines that once belonged to the late singer Whitney Houston, who died in 2012, was being held in storage in the cellars but was not among the stash stolen by the criminals. Houston, who struggled with alcohol addiction, is believed to have given the bottles to an employee.
The suspects are believed to have struck twice, on Oct. 17 and then again on Oct. 23. They carried out their caper during the shop’s normal opening hours to avoid triggering alarms but were said to be caught red-handed by a member of the staff.
They are thought to have dug into the cellar via derelict buildings surrounding the business to access the store’s vaults, which contain hundreds of bottles of high-value wine, whiskey, and port belonging to collectors.
Two men, named by police as Luke Mitchell, 34, and Nicholas Lowe, 39, have been charged with criminal damage and burglary.
Det. Constable Sean Davison, who is investigating the incident, said, “This was a high-value series of burglaries that have added significant cost and inconvenience to a local business at an already challenging time. We will continue to do all we can to disrupt those who target commercial premises in this way.
“Clearly this is a huge hit to someone’s livelihood and we will do everything we can to bring those responsible to justice.”
The managing director of the business, which was founded in 1948 and is a leading specialist supplier to regional restaurants and corporations, told The Daily Beast that they were still trying to catalog exactly what had been taken via a massive stocktaking exercise and were fielding non-stop calls from worried collectors.
The director, who asked not to be named, said he believed the thieves knew their wines as they only took higher value bottles.
They were caught when a female member of the staff went down to the cellar to replace a high-value bottle that had been stolen in the store, only to find the thieves swigging vintage Champagne as they rifled through some of the best wines in the world.
They initially tried to pass themselves off as officials inspecting the premises; however, CCTV footage reviewed later showed one of the men holding a hammer behind his back, raising fears that he may have been intending to strike the staff member with it.
“There was a lot of damage and mess, but we are just very grateful nobody was hurt,” the manager said.