Randy Sterling made a career of petty theft in St. Paul, getting away with tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise from one store alone. But Thursday, a pair of Gucci glasses and an inability to stay away landed him in jail.

Sterling pocketed a pair of Gucci glasses worth $289 at the St. Paul Eye Clinic on Grand Avenue about 11 a.m. He got away -- but then he did what all thieves know they shouldn't. Police officers were sitting in their squad car four blocks away filing a report about the glasses when Sterling reappeared at the clinic 30 minutes after his heist. This time, he was with his girlfriend, who was scheduling an appointment.

Employees recognized Sterling and called the cops, who arrested him at the scene.

"He's brash enough, he doesn't care," said Sgt. Paul Paulos, a police spokesman, adding that it's not unusual for suspects to return to the scene of a crime.

Court records show Sterling, 47, has racked up about two dozen theft cases in Ramsey County going back to 2004. In 2008, he plagued the CVS pharmacy at 499 Snelling Av. so much that employees gave Sterling his own nickname -- "The Body Wash Guy," according to court documents. Authorities estimate that Sterling was responsible for most of the $40,000 in deodorants, body wash and household detergent stolen from that CVS alone. He targeted other locations as well.

"The defendant visited daily and oftentimes several times on the same day," according to a 2009 criminal complaint.

"A pattern emerged where The Body Wash Guy entered CVS stores looking skinny, went to areas in the store where name brand deodorants, lotions, liquid body washes and laundry detergents were stocked, and he left the stores looking as if he had gained considerable weight beneath his jacket," the 2009 complaint said.

Court documents show that he escaped unscathed most of the time, and has been charged and convicted in only a fraction of the thefts.

Sterling told police he sold the detergent for cash. He was banned from all CVS pharmacies in 2008.

When police arrested him Thursday, they discovered eight bottles of laundry detergent in his jacket. They were stolen that morning from the CVS pharmacy on Grand Avenue about a block from the eye clinic.

Sterling pleaded guilty Friday to theft of the glasses and laundry detergent. He was sentenced to 60 days in the workhouse for each theft, with the sentences running concurrently.

His sister, Karen Winesberry, said her brother has a crack problem.

"He's been in and out of jail his whole life," Winesberry said. "He always struggled.

"Anybody in their right mind wouldn't go back. I don't know why he does what he does."

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib