Home Depot employee issued $873,900 worth of fraudulent gift cards, Chicago police say

CHICAGO — A fourth person has been charged with participating in a massive fraud scheme that bilked Chicago-area Home Depot stores out of more than $6 million.

We told you about the racket in May. Officials said Home Depot stores in the city were defrauded by scammers who collected $900 credits more than 6,000 times for a single purchase made three years ago.

Officials said the scam began in March 2020 when someone purchased more than $6,000 from the home improvement chain’s 2570 North Elston location. Days later, someone returned to the store and said the purchase was for a tax-exempt church. A store employee accepted the tax-exempt documents and issued the representative a $900 gift card for the tax value.

That’s weird enough because the taxes for the purchase only totaled $555, according to a Chicago police report.

The same receipt was used for over three years to generate more than 6,000 gift cards, mostly for $900 each.

Cashiers scanned the receipt bar code from an accomplice’s phone each time, manually entered the tax exemption information, and then cut a gift card for the difference. Some cashiers issued multiple gift cards for the same purchase in one sitting. And some cashiers even had a copy of the receipt stored on their personal phones so they could issue gift cards by themselves.

On Thursday, prosecutors said Tyler Clark, 25, was involved in the scam while working as a cashier at the company’s 4555 South Western location. Prosecutors said Clark used his employee credentials to issue $900 gift cards for the same 2020 purchase on 971 occasions, costing the company $873,900.

Clark sometimes issued multiple gift cards from the receipt at a time, according to the CPD report.

Between May 1 and May 11, when investigators were actively investigating the scam, he issued $108,900 worth of $900 gift cards using the receipt, officials said.

Prosecutors charged him with continuing financial crimes enterprise and theft of $500,000 to $1 million. Judge David Kelly released him on his own recognizance during a bail hearing Thursday afternoon.

Tyler Clark | Chicago Police Department; Home Depot

In May, officials estimated the company’s loss at $5.5 million. But that number is now north of $6 million, according to the police report.

Officials said the scam started slowly, with unknown persons using the receipt to get $900 gift cards 15 times in 2020. In 2021, the receipt was used to generate gift cards 33 times.

Last year, 1,372 gift cards were issued for $900 in “tax credits” on the same purchase.

And, as of mid-May, Home Depot had issued $900 gift cards for the exact same receipt 3,200 times this year, officials said in May.

In addition to the Western Avenue location, Home Depot stores in the 1300 block of South Clinton and the 2500 block of North Elston were involved.

In May, prosecutors said Lamont Thompson, 49, was one of the “customers” who presented the three-year-old receipt to receive $900 in gift cards after Home Depot alerted Chicago police on May 5. Thompson allegedly received ten gift cards worth $9,000 on May 10, another 39 cards worth $35,100 during two sessions on May 12, and three cards worth $2,700 on May 15.

When police arrested Thompson, he had 33 Home Depot gift cards worth $29,700 on him, prosecutors said. He is charged with four counts of felony retail theft and operating a continuing financial crime enterprise.

Two Home Depot cashiers, Christiana Westbrooks, 38, and Sharon Dwyer, 46, were charged with theft in May. Each had been working for the company for about two years.

Prosecutors said Westrooks used her unique teller code to issue $900 gift cards on the same receipt more than 1,000 times since January 1. She was carrying $2,980 in cash when police arrested her, officials said. She allegedly admitted to receiving $100 for every gift card she issued.

Dwyer allegedly issued more than 1,500 of the cards worth a total of $1.3 million since January 1. Prosecutors said Dwyer received $30 for every gift card she issued during the scam. In addition to giving cards to scammers who posed as customers, Dwyer is accused of scanning an image of the 2020 receipt from her phone and issuing $900 gift cards to herself. She was carrying $4,420 in cash when cops arrested her.

All three defendants charged in May were released on their own recognizance by Judge Kelly McCarthy.

Officials did not explain how the fraudulently issued gift cards were converted to cash, nor did they say if additional arrests were expected. Exactly how the scheme was able to operate for three years, generating thousands of $900 gift cards from a single $6,000 receipt, is unclear.

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