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Authorities nab so-called ‘Brewery Bandit’

REGION — Dozens of breweries in San Diego and Riverside counties have been on edge since a string of robberies began in late March.

On July 21, however, a small task force consisting of numerous law enforcement agencies from Carlsbad to Murrieta and Hemet arrested the so-called ‘brewery bandit.”

The suspect was apprehended after breaking into Wiens Brewery in Temecula, according to General Manager Ben Wiens. He said the suspect was caught attempting to break in through a window, although he did not make it inside.

Det. Sgt. John McKean of the Oceanside Police Department and leader of the task force, said an adult male was arrested, but bailed out of Riverside County Jail. “I don’t want to put anything out there that will jeopardize the investigation,” McKean said. “We believe he is involved with these breweries from Riverside County and San Diego County. Probably between 20 to 30 that we are aware of, but the investigation is still going.”

An April 17 report in The Coast News shows tasting rooms and wineries were also targeted.

Eve Sieminski, co-owner of Iron Fist Brewery in Vista and Barrio Logan, was relieved to hear a suspect had been arrested. Her brewery in Vista was broken into during the spree in March and April.

She said the man broke a small window, crawled through and headed straight for the registers after viewing security camera footage. However, no cash was in the box and other valuables had been locked away.

Sieminski said other burgled breweries were hit in the same way. The man would break a window, crawl through and attempt to steal any cash not protected or already deposited for the night.

“I think it’s great they arrested him and hope they expose him for who he was and pay restitution,” Sieminski said. “Thankfully, he didn’t steal anything from us, that we knew.”

According to the previous report in The Coast News, breweries from as far north as Temecula, Murrieta and throughout Vista, Oceanside, Rancho Bernardo, San Marcos and as far south as Scripps Ranch and Sorrento Valley have reported burglaries and vandalism.

Sieminski said her brewery was broken into seven years ago, which is why they added a security door to go along with cameras and other measures.

“The window he broke though was really small, which was weird,” she added. “We have good, safe routines, which is why more probably wasn’t taken. It’s so creepy when someone invades your space.”

San Diego County is home to one of the most active brewing and winemaking regions in the United States. More than 130 breweries are in the county, which in 2017 had an economic impact of $1.1 billion in output and $802 million in revenue, according to the 2018 Economic Impact of Craft Breweries in San Diego County Report.

At least 115 wineries actively operate in the county that generate a $50 million economic impact, according to a similar report on the impact of the winemaking industry on San Diego’s economy.

In addition to Oceanside, other law enforcement agencies involved were Carlsbad, Escondido, Murrieta, Hemet, Temecula and San Diego police departments along with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which contracts with the cities of San Marcos and Vista.

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