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Not in the Spirit of the Season

Crime: Authorities say the tale of a well-to-do Minnesota family accused of hiring a personal shoplifter is one of greed and conspicuous consumption.

December 19, 1996|CASEY SELIX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ROSEVILLE, Minn. — This holiday story ought to have a Hollywood dateline.

The cast includes a cross-dressing crook who is also a part-time hairdresser, a dentist named Dr. Dick, and lots of really fabulous clothes.

On the cold, slippery day after Thanksgiving, when many Minnesotans risked death en route to retail hell, Dr. Gerald Dick, 58, and his well-to-do family waited for an unusual hybrid of shoppers to come to them.

Only they weren't the personal shoppers available to the time-starved populace. According to police, they were personal shoplifters delivering the luxuries on a shopping list Dick and three members of his family allegedly compiled: five Armani suits (size 42 long) and six Polo women's sweaters (3 medium, 3 large). Retail value: $6,087.

The Dicks allegedly paid $800 cash for the whole shebang, not knowing one of the sellers was an undercover investigator for Minneapolis-based Dayton's department store.

If you must, call it "The Dicks Who Stole Christmas." Everybody else has.

The most famous person to come out of Roseville (population about 35,000) had been actress Loni Anderson--that is, until news of the Dicks put the Minneapolis/St. Paul suburb back on the map.

"It is unusual to have defendants who come from such seemingly comfortable backgrounds engaging in this kind of extensive criminal behavior, and I think it's also partly the holidays," said Ramsey County Atty. Susan Gaertner, whose office has filed charges against four members of the family.

"It's a classic story of greed and materialism and what can happen when you give in to those urges," Gaertner said.

Judy and Gerald Dick; their 32-year-old son James, an ex-Minnesota Viking who lives in Center City, Minn.; and 33-year-old daughter Stacy Zehren, a Chicago attorney, are charged with two felony counts of attempting to receive and conspiring to receive stolen goods in excess of $2,500. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

All but Zehren, who is about to deliver a child, appeared at last week's arraignment. Father and son dressed down for the occasion: the elder in Dockers-like khakis, the younger in jeans--both in sport coats. Judy Dick, 56, wore a tailored, above-the-knee navy suit and navy heels, a dangerous combination on icy sidewalks. A judge released them on their own recognizance until a Jan. 9 hearing when they could enter a plea.

Their attorney, Paul Applebaum of St. Paul, said after the hearing he planned to seek a court order to return the designer duds and glittering crystal to his clients.

The burden, he says, is on the state to prove the seized items were stolen.

"All I can say right now is that they're taking these charges very seriously," Applebaum said after the hearing. "I think it goes without saying it's a devastating event in their lives and they're going to try and pick up the pieces once the case clears up and there is some sort of certainty as to how this case is going to proceed."

In the meantime, Gaertner's office is trying to decide if additional charges will be filed. The unfolding story has also provided plenty of yuks for comedians and talk shows.

Police said the family never paid more than one-third of full price--much to the chagrin of cross-dressing shoplifter Gregory Eugene Thomas, 37, of Minneapolis. He told his side of the story to Roseville police when nabbed at a mall that's less than a mile from the Dick family home on Gluek (rhymes with Dick) Lane.

Thomas told police he would dress in drag in stores to appear less conspicuous as a shoplifter. He would then bring the finer labels to the family. He also claims that among the $250,000 in stolen goods he's sold the family over the years, $100,000 is in crystal.

Thomas, who has at least 10 theft-related convictions, according to court records, won't be charged in this case because he helped investigators set up the sting that led to the Dicks' arrest, police said. In fact, he introduced the undercover investigator to the Dicks as a Dayton's janitor who could steal to order, according to police reports.

The police department's inventory of women's clothing seized from the home totaled $41,400, many with price tags still attached. (Before the bust, Gerald Dick allegedly demonstrated to the undercover investigator how to remove the exploding tags on the clothing without spilling the dye.)

Among the items: a $2,435 Chanel black cashmere sweater a Dayton's saleswoman described as "so soft, it's just like butter"; a $1,200 brown Armani suit; a $1,200 navy Escada dress; a $1,500 red jacket from Yves Saint Laurent; and a $1,250 blue Thierry Mugler suit.

Those prices might not seem outlandish by Los Angeles or New York standards, but in modest, minimalist Minnesota, such consumption is just so-o-o-o unheard of.

Judy Dick allegedly paid just $200 for that Chanel sweater with the signature gold buttons, according to police reports. The puzzling thing is that it's size 14 and Judy is closer to a size 6 or 8. Dayton's officials say they have no record of the sale, although the sweater does have a Dayton's tag.

Police say there is no evidence that the family sold any of the bargains.

Said Gaertner: "It's a variation on the personal shopper relationship with a twist obviously."

When contacted by a reporter, Judy Dick referred inquiries to her attorney. But she said she "wished someone would look into that person [Thomas]--I don't even know his name."

But Thomas, who told police he and Judy Dick were introduced by her hairdresser, knew the family's home phone number by heart. When asked to call the Dicks at home, police said Thomas quickly punched in the numbers without consulting a phone book.

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