Bikini barista coffee stands’ owner missing

EVERETT — The owner of controversial bikini espresso stands has disappeared.

Grab-n-Go owner Bill Wheeler, 50, hasn’t been seen since May 26, officials said.

He went to Las Vegas to retrieve an espresso machine and his Toyota pickup truck, his daughter, Barbara Wheeler, said Thursday.

“There has been no word. Nobody’s seen him, talked to him, nothing,” she said.

She reported him missing to police in Everett on June 2. Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said Wheeler’s girlfriend also filed a missing persons report.

Wheeler’s wife reportedly was the last person to see him at their residence in Vegas on May 26, Hover said.

Wheeler’s espresso stands made national headlines last year after five of his employees were investigated for performing lewd acts while serving coffee. The women were charged with prostitution — customers paid for the show — and for violating the city’s adult entertainment rules.

Wheeler denied knowing that his employees were breaking the law. He has not been charged with any crimes in connection with the investigation.

Wheeler’s pickup truck was found on May 29 abandoned and burned in California’s high desert near Victorville, about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Sunseri said.

It’s a common place for vehicles to be dumped, he said. Detectives found no other evidence of foul play in or around Wheeler’s truck.

“There was no indication of a body left at or near the scene,” Sunseri said.

There’s also no evidence that Wheeler made it back to Washington state, Hover said.

Police in Las Vegas said they would work with other law enforcement, but as of Thursday weren’t investigating Wheeler’s disappearance.

Wheeler had experienced financial trouble in recent months.

A day before he was reported missing, a warrant was issued for his arrest for failing to appear in court to answer to allegations that he owes nearly $20,000 in rent for a building he is leasing in the Silver Lake area. Wheeler also was served with an eviction notice in March for a building he is renting in Lynnwood. The property owner alleged that Wheeler hadn’t paid rent since November.

Late last month a judge ordered Wheeler to pay nearly $20,000 to a woman who sold Wheeler an espresso stand in 2009. Wheeler agreed to pay the woman $40,000 for the coffee business but failed to make the last $10,000 payment. Instead he gave the woman checks that bounced several times, according to court documents.

The woman sued Wheeler in December. He failed to show up for the court hearing and the judge ordered Wheeler to pay the last payment and cover the woman’s legal costs, court records said.

His daughter said that she and her brother were making payments until their father went missing.

Now, her father’s business affairs are being managed by her stepmother, Wheeler’s wife, the daughter said.

Wheeler was scheduled for surgery and wouldn’t have run away, daughter Barbara Wheeler said.

“We’ve called from here to Timbuktu looking for him,” she said.

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, jholtz@heraldnet.com.

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