Serial meat thief stole from 19 HEB stores, police say

Previous booking photo for James Cordell Avery, provided by the Austin Police Department.
Previous booking photo for James Cordell Avery, provided by the Austin Police Department.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man suspected of stealing meat from several area HEB stores and reselling it to local restaurants is being sought by police.

James Cordell Avery, 47, is accused of stealing from at least 19 HEB stores, 13 of which are in the Austin area. Police say the thefts started over the summer and that he took more than $2,000 worth of meat.

“He walks in, takes care of business, just like we do when we go shopping,” said APD Det. Rickey Jones. “Except, we do something a little different. We stop at the cash register and pay. He doesn’t.”

An arrest affidavit listed several encounters between Avery and store employees dating back to May. Avery abandoned his cart each time he was confronted and fled the scene in a Buick, the affidavit said. He was carrying more than $420 worth of meat on the occasions where he left the product behind, the document said, and had a cart with $757 worth of meat in it when he was stopped outside the HEB on E. 51st Street in September.

“He’s selling or giving it away, he’s doing something with it,” said Jones. “I have yet to know an individual who can eat that much meat, in that short of time.”

A local barbecue restaurant owner says it’s not so surprising.

“After the initial shock of hearing someone’s stealing briskets from HEB, it kind of makes sense,” said Michael Black, owner and manager at Terry Black’s Barbecue. “Because the price of beef is on the rise, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.”

Black says the risk of purchasing black market meat isn’t worth it.

“The dangers involved in that are you have to hold meat below 41 degrees. Do these guys have commercial size refrigerators? Chance are they probably don’t. Are they making sure the meat is properly vacuum-sealed so that air isn’t exposed to meat? Probably not. It’s definitely not safe to do.”

Austin Police arrested Avery in October and impounded his car, but he bonded out, and police are once again looking for him.

Anyone with information about Avery’s whereabouts is asked to call 911. Bond has been set at $12,000.

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