Another man charged in sprawling $6 million Home Depot gift card scam

CHICAGO — Another person faces felony charges for allegedly participating in a years-long gift card scam that cost Chicago area Home Depot stores more than $6 million.

Thomas McNeal, 62, of Westchester, was charged Wednesday with participating in a continuing financial crime enterprise and three counts of theft of between $500 and $10,000. Judge Mary Marubio released him from custody with standard orders to appear in court and avoid contact with witnesses and the victim, Home Depot.

The scam began in March 2020 when someone made a $6,000 purchase at the company’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, even though the tax amount was only $555.

The same receipt was used over three years to generate more than 6,000 gift cards purportedly for tax sales tax refunds, 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 even had a copy of the receipt stored on their personal phones so they could issue gift cards by themselves.

The company caught on to the ruse earlier this year and brought in the police.

McNeal allegedly presented the receipt to a customer service representative at the 1300 South Clinton location on May 10, 11, and 12 as Home Depot investigators and the Chicago Police Department’s organized retail crime task force watched. He received gift cards worth $12,600 during those transactions, police said.

Less than a week after those transactions were completed, the customer service rep, Sharon Dwyer, became one of the first to be arrested and charged in the case.

Thomas McNeal | Chicago Police Department; Google

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

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.

Prosecutors have said the receipt was used to issue 16 gift cards worth $900 each in 2020. Another 33 cards valued at $900 each were cut the following year. Last year, more than $1.2 million worth of $900 gift cards were issued using the same receipt.

When cops pulled the plug on the scam in May, the receipt had already been used 3,200 times this year to issue cards worth nearly $2.9 million.

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