LEESBURG — If Mike Rogers were telling a joke, his statement would be a great punch line: “I’m not saying we ought to do something as drastic as some countries and cut off thieves’ hands, but if we did there’d be a lot of no-arm sons of b-----s around here.”

Rogers expressed his frustration — again — this week after a man walked into his Philema Road Mike’s Country Store in Lee County, placed a large number of packages of meat in an overcoat, put a few more packs in a shopping buggy, calmly walked out of the store past the checkout lines, put the meat in his vehicle and drove away.

“This was a person who’d tried to do this a couple of times before and he’d been told not to come back to our store,” Rogers said as he showed still photos from surveillance video that shows the alleged thief taking the meat. “He waited until our manager who’d banned him from the store wasn’t here and came in and did this.

“What really gets me is that, if I’d been here, I fear there would have been a major problem. I would not have just let him walk out. Of course, if I’d done anything, I’d end up going to jail.”

Rogers’ Mike’s stores offer bargains that entice shoppers with smaller budgets as well as bargain hunters. Sadly, he notes, it also attracts the kind of person who thinks little of taking things that aren’t his. Mike’s has also been victimized by a self-proclaimed preacher who stole a large number of oxtails, an employee who failed to scan a number of items while checking out a relative who was shopping in the store, and by a thief who was later captured but was since seen by Rogers “walking around, free, able to steal again,” took more than $7,000 worth of meat.

“Everyone in Albany and around this area says their main objective is to bring business and jobs to the community,” Rogers said. “Then the justice system turns around and stabs business owners in the back.”

Rogers bemoans the fact that thieves like the person who took seven grand in meat from his store and another who “sold” meat to an “undercover” operative and, even after the buy was completed and Rogers identified the meat as coming from his store, law enforcement officials said — even with the corroboration of the undercover person — that it was a matter of “his word against the thief’s.”

The business owner confesses that the helplessness he feels over the loss of merchandise and a local judicial system that allows thieves to “be put right back on the streets, to steal again,” has him pondering the benefits of remaining in business.

“Every day for the last five years, 365 days each year, I’ve had to battle this,” Rogers said. “I’ve started to wonder if it’s worth it. People have no clue what I — and other small business owners — have to deal with. And it’s not just the money we’re losing.

“Look, if everything goes perfectly in this business — if everything goes right — it’s still a struggle. But it doesn’t go like that. I’ve had the store here in Lee County since 1997, and since that time — with the opening of new stores and improving this one — I’ve had to deal with people taking from me and me either paying a lawyer three times what the thief took to try and recover the money I’m owed or just eating another loss. In all those years, the restitution I’ve gotten amounts to 0 dollars.”

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