RICH OR POOR, EVERY SHOPPER loves a bargain, but no one did as well—or as badly—this holiday season as the Dick family of Roseville, Minn. Imagine their glee last Nov. 29 when, on the evening of what is considered the busiest shopping day of the year, Santa's helper Gregory Thomas appeared at their $400,000 home to deliver a selection of deluxe merchandise—including three designer suits valued at $1,750, a $498 Coach leather briefcase and a Baccarat crystal eagle worth $435—at just a fraction of the retail price.

The family's delight was short-lived, however. For Thomas, 37, had been accompanied by an undercover security officer posing as a department-store cleaning woman. And just hours after he left on that snowy night, Roseville police descended on the Dick household. They charged four family members—Gerald, 58, a prominent Roseville dentist; his wife, Judy, 56, a former businesswoman; and two of their five children (son James, 32, who now works for a promotions firm and who briefly played pro football for the Minnesota Vikings in 1987, and daughter Stacy Dick Zehren, 33, a Chicago insurance attorney)—with two felony counts each for receiving stolen property. Thomas, police say, was no mere bearer of gifts and holiday cheer; he was the Dick family's designated shoplifter.

Inside the Dick home, investigators found, among other items, nine rolling racks of mainly designer clothes, some with the price tags still attached, a $2,495 black Chanel sweater and a red Thierry Mugler jacket valued at $1,250. Over several years, Thomas claims to have stolen $250,000 in merchandise for the family.

The Dicks—who, through their attorney, Paul Applebaum, deny any wrongdoing—are scheduled to enter pleas at the Ramsey County district court in St. Paul this week. "We're going to fight this in court," says Applebaum, who says he will file a motion demanding the return of $41,400 in crystal and clothing—including a full-length white fox fur coat with Judy Dick's name monogrammed inside—that investigators confiscated.

The Dicks' public troubles began when Thomas, notorious among local police as "a big-time booster" with a record extending back 12 years, was arrested for stealing two Polo jackets at Dayton's department store in Roseville. In an apparent attempt to ingratiate himself with police, Thomas offered to lead investigators to the Dick family, whom he identified as longtime clients. At approximately 8:30 p.m., Thomas and Carla Schrom, a Dayton's theft investigator, arrived at the Dick house with their bundle of purportedly stolen goods. According to the account of events later given to police by Schrom, Judy and Gerald Dick were not at home. But James and his sister Stacy Zehren allegedly bought the tan Coach briefcase and the crystal eagle on their mother's behalf, paying just $150 for both. James rejected a selection of Joseph Abboud and Andrew Fezza men's suits, allegedly explaining, "I like Armani better." So Schrom agreed to come back with 10 Armani suits, size 42 long, and a selection of Polo sweaters.

About 2½ hours later, when she returned, two Roseville police officers waited down the street. This time, said Schrom, the Dicks were thrilled with the $6,000 Armani and Polo cache that she had to offer. Gerald Dick, who had returned home with his wife, used a small blowtorch to remove the ink-spraying anti-theft devices that were still attached to some of the clothes. Judy cheerfully helped James negotiate the sale with the undercover investigator. "I told them I wanted a third of the price," Schrom reported. "They both started laughing and said, 'Cricket [another shoplifter] only charges us a fifth of the price.' " In the end, the Dicks allegedly paid just $800 for their home-shopping spree. Minutes later, when police showed up, Judy reportedly told them, "Okay, you caught us red-handed. Now what?"

The Dicks, whom one neighbor describes as "very nice people," hardly look the part of consumer desperadoes. Gerald, a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, married Judy Hasselman, who has a degree in dental hygiene, shortly after passing his state licensing exams in 1963. About 10 years later, with Gerald's Roseville dental practice flourishing and Judy working as part-owner, with her father, of a company manufacturing truck accessories (the business closed in 1991, two years before her father's death), the Dicks built their handsome brick house with a triple garage and circular drive on Gluek Lane, next to Judy's parents.

Just how such a well-to-do family came in contact with Thomas, who police say cross-dresses to steal designer dresses in Dayton's select Oval Room without arousing suspicion, remains something of a mystery. Prison officials note that Gerald Dick's younger brother Wesley, who died while serving a 16-year sentence for attempted murder in 1990, was incarcerated at Minnesota's Stillwater Prison, where Thomas, who has been convicted of theft at least 10 times, served time in the late '80s. He added that the family, though always offering him less than he was used to getting for items he stole, had more than once bailed him out of jail.

The four accused Dicks, none of whom has a record, could face up to 10 years behind bars and fines of $20,000 each if found guilty—though prison terms are unusual for first-time offenders. Thomas has not been charged with any crime. But Roseville police officer Dan Sommerdorf notes that Thomas, despite his cooperation with the authorities, could be arrested "at any time" during the ongoing investigation. After all, as every shrewd shopper knows, some deals are too good to be true.

PATRICK ROGERS
MARGARET NELSON in Roseville

  • Contributors:
  • Margaret Nelson.