Bethlehem Township police investigating a more than $1,700 theft from the Lowe’s at Southmont Plaza unraveled a complex scam and charged two 18-year-olds from Michigan with various crimes, court papers say.
Officers were notified by loss prevention on Oct. 7 that the two men made purchases of tools, air fresheners and Mastercard gift cards on Oct. 5 at the store in the 4400 block of Birkland Place, according to court documents that lay out what police say happened.
The men “showed the cashier that they had credit cards with ‘cash’ instructions indicating that the cashier needed to select the cash button on the cash register so the (men) could properly use their credit cards,” court papers say.
“In doing so, the (men) deceived the cashier into processing their transactions as cash transactions not credit card transactions. The store never received any money for the transactions. The (men) left the store with merchandise and activated gift cards without paying” for them, the court documents say.
Police executed a search warrant on the company that processes the Mastercard gift cards and learned the men used the eight gift cards to buy four Visa gift cards at a township Walmart, court papers say.
The company that processes the Visa gift cards voluntarily told investigators that two of the Visa gift cards were converted to cash at a Walmart in Whitehall Township, court papers say. Another of the Visa gift cards was used at various places in Michigan, including a district court to make a citation payment for Eric Kenneth Duesette of Romulus, Michigan, court papers say.
The fourth gift card was used to buy from a website in the name of Jay Flake of the same Michigan municipality, court papers say. Jayshawn Flake Turner lives at the address recorded with the purchase, police said.
“While investigating this incident, I found that numerous other law enforcement agencies were investigating the (men) for engaging in the same scam at other Lowe’s locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” Investigator Patrick Brehm, who has worked other cash card scams in the past, said in court papers.
The men were seen arriving at the Lowe’s locations in a blue Dodge Charger with a Michigan registration number, the court document said.
The men were stopped at a Bethlehem Lowe’s location and one of them provided a phone number, which traced back to Flake Turner’s mother, police said. The photo on Flake Turner’s driver’s license matched surveillance video from Lowe’s, police said.
A photo of Duesette was sent to Michigan authorities for facial recognition, which “developed Duesette … as a suspect”, court papers say. A school resource officer at Romulus High School confirmed Duesette and Flake Turner spent time together and the officer identified both men from photos, court papers say.
Duesette, 18, and Flake Turner, 18, both of Romulus, were charged Wednesday in district court in the township with dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities (a first degree felony), conspiracy to do the same (another first degree felony), retail theft and conspiracy to do the same (both third degree felonies), receiving stolen property and conspiracy to receive stolen property (both misdemeanors).
The men did not appear to be in custody as of Thursday morning and court papers do not list attorneys for them.
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Tony Rhodin can be reached at email@example.com.