A man dressed as Santa Claus teamed with police to bust a thief who had stashed stolen merchandise in a grove of Christmas trees.

The man, who runs a Christmas tree lot off of CY Avenue, said he noticed the thief drop something among his trees around 4:30 p.m. Monday. He assumed it was a Casper rock — painted stones that people hide and then photograph upon finding — until he noticed a police officer.

That officer, Sgt. Scott Jones, had just stopped someone for speeding when a worker at Rocky Mountain Discount Sports approached him about a shoplifting incident. The store employee pointed out the suspect, who denied shoplifting. But the Christmas tree salesman told the policeman that he’d seen the thief stash the merchandise in his grove of trees.

When Jones approached the man with the stolen items, he got “weepy” before admitting to the theft, Jones said.

The man was not arrested and instead cited for the crime. He will appear in Casper Municipal Court to answer the citation.

“We take shoplifting pretty darn seriously,” Jones said. “It’s kinda neat that the store and Santa and the police collaborated on this.”

The tree salesman, who only identified himself as “St. Nick,” said the man was the third shoplifter he had helped apprehend over the 36 years he’s been sporting a white beard and red hat in Casper. He said he helped stop two juveniles who had pocketed beef jerky and pistachios about 15 years ago in an Evansville convenience store.

When a Star-Tribune reporter asked about his identity, Santa presented a Sam’s Club membership card and a Casper merchant’s license with the name “Santa Claus” on them.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson