The blonde bandit who allegedly stole more than 20 cases of wine during the World of Pinot Noir event at the Bacara in Goleta on March 4 has been charged with felony grand theft. A single count was filed this week against Las Vegas schoolteacher Heather Avner Ogle by prosecutor Brian Cota in the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office, and the arraignment is scheduled for July 6. Ogle’s attorney, Brian Smith, declined an opportunity to comment. If convicted, Ogle could face anything from probation to three years in county jail.
According to World of Pinot Noir organizers, Ogle took two luggage racks into the Bacara’s grand ballroom as attendees left a tasting event that Friday afternoon, loaded up more than 20 cases of expensive wine likely worth more than $10,000, and covered them with linens. She then quickly moved toward the elevator, past winemakers wondering if she had taken their wine, met two men in a Toyota Tacoma truck waiting in the valet line, and fled.
World of Pinot Noir president and winemaker Leslie Mead Renaud, who had five cases of her Roth and The Four Graces wine stolen, valued at $2,500, was able to use security footage to identify Ogle, who was also suspected of taking wine from a different winery during a separate event. Renaud and others even cross-referenced social media to corroborate Ogle’s outfit during the crime. They presented all of this evidence to the Sheriff’s Department the week following the incident.
There was initial concern by the victimized vintners that the Sheriff’s Department or the District Attorney wasn’t going to pursue the case since it was considered minor compared to more violent crimes. Soon afterward, for instance, the sheriffs were dealing with the horrific Henry Han family murders, and then just last month the D.A.’s office announced a complex indictment of the company responsible for the Refugio Oil Spill. But the World of Pinot heist case appears to have been proceeding forward nonetheless.
After the theft was initially reported by this newspaper, a Las Vegas television channel pursued the story and tracked down Ogle, repeatedly calling her phone and even waiting outside of her school for an interview. That never happened. In the meantime, Ogle’s attorney reportedly reached out to the organizers to try to resolve the matter, but those attempts were rebuffed.
With the felony charge now filed, winemakers are breathing a collective sigh of relief. “As a Santa Barbara County winemaker, I’m pleased to hear that our Sheriff and District Attorney offices take this theft as seriously as we do,” said Karen Steinwachs, winemaker at Buttonwood Farm Winery and a longtime boardmember of World of Pinot Noir. “We hope that this will alleviate concerns about the World of Pinot Noir event to our fellow winemaker colleagues around the world and that we will be able to hold the 2017 event in the spirit of camaraderie as it has always been.”