Local News

Man, woman accused of being part of scheme to defraud department store

SEBRING - The scheme wasn't very complex, an arrest report indicates. It involved several people, apparently including an employee, who made false returns of merchandise to JCPenney in the Lakeshore Mall and received gift cards that were sold elsewhere. On Thursday, two of those suspected of being involved in the theft ring were arrested by the Highlands County Sheriff's Office. Christopher Michael Thomas, 32, and Nancy Jeanne Thomas,30, both of 2322 Fernway St., Sebring, were arrested on warrants and charged with third-degree grand theft, scheme to defraud and dealing in stolen property. Nancy Thomas also was charged with criminal use of personal identification.
Authorities made the arrests after a loss prevention officer for JCPenney noticed that one employee, who has yet to be arrested, handled an unusual amount of refunds. The investigation indicated that between April 2013 and July 2013, the employee handled $5,000 worth of fraudulent refunds and some of those were for family members, the report said. After the employee was hired, Christopher and Nancy Thomas solicited others to make phony returns, the report said. "The scheme was to return merchandise without store receipts in exchange for gift cards," the affidavit said. "It was discovered that much of the items returned were never initially purchased at the store." In many of the cases, the affidavit said, the value of the gift cards exceeded that of the returned merchandise, the affidavit said. Nancy Thomas admitted that she completed 15 transactions with the employee and that in at least one case she used the driver's license of a man who was incarcerated in the Highlands County jail, the affidavit said. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834