KNOXVILLE - The owner of a popular South Knoxville restaurant was arrested after Knox County Sheriff's Office deputies raided his restaurant Wednesday afternoon.
KCSO alleges the Round Up Restaurant on Sevierville Pike has been buying meat stolen by drug addicts looking for money to fuel their habits.
Officials arrested the restaurant owner, Sam Tobea, on a charge of felony theft.
"If you're going to buy stolen property in our community, you need to look over your shoulder because we're coming," said KCSO Chief of Administration Lee Tramel.
Deputies said the investigation started last month. They said the alleged stolen meat was not properly stored.
"A lot of this food was stolen around 10, 11 o'clock at night. It sat in a car all night, cooked and served to the customers coming in here," said Tramel.
Deputies said the stolen meat included hamburger, steak and chicken.
Tramel said Kroger worked with undercover officers to give them meat that looked like it was stolen. Then the restaurant allegedly bought the meat from the undercover officers.
Raiding the restaurant represents a new trend for law enforcement in Knox County. The sheriff's office has previously executed search warrants at pawn shops, but Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said any business that deals with inventory is the potential target of an investigation if it is aiding addicts.
"If you are helping them with that problem, if you're doing something illegally, they're going to tell on you, and when they tell on you, we are going to come after you," Rausch said.
The Roundup Restaurant is a popular spot in South Knoxville, and Rausch said it is disheartening to see the restaurant take a different route to make money that could have harmed a lot of people.
"It is disheartening that you have businesses that you think are good people, that are doing good in our community, and then they fall prey to this easy dollar," Rausch added.
Tramel said the sheriff's office knows of other businesses buying stolen items from addicts, and it is working with recovering addicts to double down on those who are fueling the drug epidemic.
"This is not the last time that we're going to be called out on a search warrant where I tell you that somebody's going to jail for buying stolen property," Tramel said. "I assure you of that."
© 2017 WBIR.COM