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Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006 11:54 am

The wedding crasher

Looks as if somebody showed up at the wrong reception

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It was, by all accounts, a lovely wedding. Some 300 guests gathered at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to observe the nuptials of the happy couple — the beautiful bride a health-care provider, the handsome groom an up-and-coming public sector attorney. The bridesmaids wore black gowns with platinum accents and carried red roses — the perfect color scheme for a wedding on New Year’s Eve. After the ceremony, the celebration moved to a downtown hotel, where a band entertained guests in the big ballroom. As the groom entered the reception, he passed the gift table, set up in the hallway just outside the ballroom, and, before he could squelch it, the thought “Is that a secure location?” flickered across his mind. It was immediately followed by embarrassment, even guilt. “Oh God! What are you even thinking like that for?” he chided himself. It was the kind of wedding where the bride and groom, mature professionals, each already owned a home, so many guests elected to give them gift certificates or money instead of duplicate eggbeaters or candlesticks. By evening’s end, a tall hurricane vase on the gift table brimmed with cards. But the next day, when the couple met with family and friends to open gifts, the groom had another one of those cynical thoughts zip across his brain: “Wasn’t that hurricane vase full last night?” Again he tried to reason his way out of suspicion. Maybe they had settled, he thought, like breakfast cereal in a box or potato chips in a bag. “In my line of work, I immediately believe the worst, then I try to talk myself out of it,” he says. So he and his new wife opened their gifts and were thrilled to see that they had received a full complement of place settings in their chosen china pattern, plus two coffee makers, one blender, zero toasters . . . they were happy. But then the groom’s mother asked him to read the message on the card from a particular friend, and they couldn’t find the card. No, it’s got to be there, the groom’s grandmother insisted — she had put it in the hurricane vase herself. Then a bridesmaid asked about another card she had seen a friend drop into the big glass vase. They couldn’t find that one, either. “And that’s when the sinking feeling started to set in,” the groom says. After a review of the guest list and a few excruciatingly awkward phone calls — “Hey, I hate to ask you this, but did you give us a monetary wedding present?” — it was obvious: Someone had reached into the vase and taken a handful or two of the cards. In other words, some thief had stolen their gifts. Pilfered the presents. Looted the booty. But what this thief did wasn’t just wrong, it was foolish — and I mean foolish on a scale that’s difficult to fathom. The groom, see, is Steve Weinhoeft — first assistant state’s attorney for Sangamon County. More than a dozen of his co-workers, including his boss, State’s Attorney John Schmidt, attended the wedding, as did a handful of judges and the entire cast of detectives from what the Springfield Police Department used to call the “major case” squad. And that’s just on the groom’s side. The bride, Amy Nash, is the daughter of retired FBI agent Steve Nash, who now works as an investigator at the secretary of state’s inspector general’s office. A few of his co-workers were present at the reception, too. “Yeah, pretty much a who’s-who of the justice system, that’s for sure,” recalls SPD Sgt. Tim Young, the one person who passed by the hurricane vase, walked up to Weinhoeft, and handed him his card. “I don’t like just leaving money lying around. I guess that’s from 26 years of dealing with criminals. I don’t trust anyone,” Young says. “I gave him $100, if you wanna know. Cash.” His supervisor, Lt. Rickey Davis, wasn’t as suspicious. He put his gift in the hurricane vase. It was one of several cards from cops that got stolen. Now these same detectives are working the case. Just this week, a promising lead developed when a couple of the gift cards were cashed in by someone other than Steve or Amy. Weinhoeft says there’s no way to know exactly how many items were stolen or how much money he and the new Mrs. Weinhoeft are missing. He’s the kind of guy who can chuckle about the whole thing — “There really is an irony there” — especially those moments when he let all that fairytale wedding stuff muffle messages from his jaded gut. “Unfortunately,” he says, “sometimes people do bad things.”
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