CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP (KDKA) – Police have arrested 20 people in connection with an elaborate retail theft and return scheme involving area Lowe's stores.
According to police, 21 thefts happened from Feb. 9 through April 15 at several stores in five different counties across Western Pennsylvania.
"We had a number of individuals that were shoplifting various items from Lowe's stores," said Sgt. Chuck Mascellino, of the Cranberry Police Department. "They would then return them throughout Beaver County and Butler County for the gift cards or cash cards."
In all but one case, two men would enter the store and grab a five-gallon bucket or hand-held shopping basket.
The men would walk through the store and load up on tools and other small, valuable items.
At that point, they would make their way to the front of the store, where they would wait for employees to be tied up with customers before running outside.
Once outside, they would hop into a waiting vehicle and flee the scene.
The stolen merchandise was then given to other people to return to the store. The value of the returned items were placed onto a Lowe's merchandise credit card, as is store policy for items returned without a receipt.
The returns were made only to the Lowe's stores in Center Township, Beaver County, and Cranberry Township, Butler County.
"It's a larger case because of the dollar amount and the number of people involved," said Sgt. Mascellino. "We have had smaller cases before, but eventually they will be caught."
Once the credit cards were obtained, they were sold to several Beaver County pawn shops for a percentage of the value on the card.
The total value of the credit cards ended up being $27,780.40.
"It's becoming more common place, bordering two counties we see a lot of cross-county traffic that way," Sgt. Mascellino said.
The suspects and charges are as follows:
Michael Deal – 11 retail thefts totaling $15,305.51. One return for $937.55
James Bienick - Nine retail thefts totaling $9,614.68
Ryan Fisher – 10 retails thefts totaling $12,661.14
Nicki Meckling – Seven retail thefts totaling $8,316.25
John Deem - Three retail thefts totaling $4,319.02
Janice Cercone – Three returns for $4,570.89
Samantha Chero – One retail theft for $1,885.32 and two returns for $1,997.45
Eric Reed – Two retail thefts for $2,988.85 and one return for $1,410.46
Markus Stanley - One retail theft for $1,885.32 and three returns for $4,267.09
Jason Petrella - Two returns for $1,992.43
Azaria Davis – Three returns for $3,079.25
The following suspects committed one return:
Tricia O'Neal - $981.07
Kristopher Pander - $1,336.07
Paul White - $1,372.47
Michael Schmidt - $871.26
Tammy Wright - $875.06
Shevawn Williams - $1,024.50
Corey Strang - $1,661.84
Linda Payne - $1,577.79
John Deem $762.77
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