Hip New Rallying Cry: 'Free Winona'

01/24/2002 at 01:00 PM EST

A Los Angeles gift shop owner named Billy Tsangares is having a little fun at the expense of alleged shoplifter Winona Ryder. He's selling T-shirts with a (not very close) likeness of her on them emblazoned with the slogan "Free Winona." Reuters reported late on Wednesday that the garment and the slogan are catching on like tooth whiteners in Tinseltown, with more than 600 T-shirts sold so far. "Sales are exploding, I'm getting 100 calls a day," Tsangares told the news service. "This type of humor is a way to be political without necessarily taking a stand that's going to offend somebody," he went on to explain. By Thursday afternoon, however, a staff member in the publicist's office of the "Girl, Interrupted" actress, referring to the "Free Winona" campaign, told PEOPLE.com: "This is the first we've heard of it. Can we get back to you?" In its Jan. 7, 2002 issue, PEOPLE reported that Ryder, 30, was observed inside the Beverly Hills branch of the Saks Fifth Avenue department store and, authorities say, at one point pulled out scissors and pried security sensors off several items -- including, according to a Saks staffer, a Judith Leiber handbag worth more than $1,000 -- then put them into a shopping bag she had brought with her. When Ryder left the store, security officers stopped her on the sidewalk and called police, who arrested her for allegedly pilfering $4,760 worth of merchandise and possessing painkilling drugs -- believed to be Demerol, Percocet and Vicodin, all addictive narcotics -- without a prescription. Beverly Hills Police Lt. Gary Gilmond says Ryder was "polite and cooperative" throughout the four hours she spent in custody until her lawyer Mark Geragos posted her $20,000 bail just before midnight. He has since claimed in statements to reporters that the entire incident was "a misunderstanding" that ultimately will be dismissed in court. As of PEOPLE.com's deadline for Friday morning, no one from Ryder's publicity office had returned the call about the T-shirt phenomenon.

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