Police have charged a former Deephaven businessman with theft after he abruptly shut down his Lake Minnetonka-area sporting goods store, taking with him more than $36,000 worth of mountain bikes, snowboards and skis.
Michael Metzler, 36, owned Gear Doctors, a sporting goods repair and consignment store that he was about to relocate to St. Paul when he vanished, suddenly shutting it down and leaving 57 Twin Cities-area customers without valuable equipment that they had dropped off for sale or repair.
About half of the missing gear was found by Deephaven police in a search of a St. Paul warehouse and returned to customers. The rest, police speculate, probably was sold by Metzler online.
Now police have another search underway — for Metzler.
“We don’t have a clue where he is,” Deephaven Police Chief Cory Johnson said. But “he’ll turn up somewhere.”
Metzler couldn’t be reached by phone for comment and the police complaint lists his address as “unknown.”
He previously lived in Roseville and in Deephaven.
In April, White Bear Lake received a missing-person report on Metzler when an employer hadn’t seen him in 14 or 15 days, according to White Bear Lake police.
But Metzler’s family told police that there was no cause for concern and that he didn’t have a permanent address.
In Deephaven, the case has grown since the Star Tribune first wrote about it last October.
Since then, more customers who lost items to Gear Doctors have reported it to Deephaven police, with the total growing to 57 customers. The list includes the Minnetonka Police Department, which had a $1,200 defensive tactics suit at Gear Doctors for repair; the suit has since been returned.
“This is the largest theft case we’ve done in years,” Chief Johnson said.
John Meccia of Excelsior picked the shop to drop off his sailboat cover for repairs because it was near his home.
When he hadn’t heard from Gear Doctors, he showed up only to find it closed.
Five months after he had dropped off the boat cover, police returned it to him.
“I’ve never had anything like that happen before,” he said.
Metzler first opened Gear Doctors in 2004, and opened the Lake Minnetonka store in 2011 off busy County Road 101 S., north of Hwy. 7, according to its Yelp page. Metzler’s business seemed to thrive, boosted through online coupons on Groupon, LivingSocial, DealChicken and Star Tribune Steals.
But, former employees told the Star Tribune, Metzler got into personal legal issues that put him behind on bills.
Last July, he relocated to St. Paul without telling customers, who found the Deephaven store abandoned. Metzler didn’t pay his building’s rent or utilities. Then his employees’ paychecks bounced, according to the complaint.
Deephaven police issued two search warrants in St. Paul to confiscate more than $15,000 worth of gear — half of the estimated $36,263 worth of items for which police have received reports.
Police have returned most of the gear to customers, but they still have about 30 snowboards, skis, camping tents and other items that customers have yet to claim.
Last week, Deephaven police filed the arrest warrant and theft charge against Metzler in Ramsey County District Court. It carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and/or a $20,000 fine.