Palm Coast Staples Store’s General Manager Is Arrested Over Refund Fraud Scheme
FlaglerLive | January 14, 2015
The general manager of the Staples store on Old Kings Road in Palm Coast was arrested Tuesday after confessing to defrauding the store of at least $3,000 by creating fake refunds to himself since last April. Customers were not involved.
Robert Michael Harper, 36, a resident of Bay Spring Place in Palm Coast, faces a third-degree felony charge of organized fraud. He remained at the Flagler County jail this morning as bond had not been set.
Staples Corporate Security officer Ellie Chemaly had been conducting an internal investigation into the thefts since December, according to Harper’s arrest report. The alleged thefts began last April. Tuesday morning, the security officer asked for a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy to come to the store, where Chemaly had confronted Harper and elicited a written confession from him. The confession was witnessed by a loss prevention officer at the store.
Harper, his arrest report states, admitted to completing fake cash refunds for his personal gain starting in April 2014. That first time, Harper “refunded” a bogus order of blank paper using a fake online order number. He used the refund money to buy a Visa gift card, which he then used at sportsauthority.com to buy sneakers. Ironically, he was wearing the sneakers the day of his arrest.
Harper “admitted to completing the same fraudulent activity of fraudulent returns to cash and cash cards” between April 1 and the end of December 2014, with activity picking up in November. The total loss to Staples is reported as $3,255.50.
On Tuesday, two deputies spoke with Harper in his back office at the store, reading him his Miranda rights first. Harper provided a written statement and said, in a recorded statement: “Over the course of the last eight or nine months I have stolen slash embezzled, whatever the word is the right one, um, about $3,300 from Staples via fraudulent transactions. I would use a fake order number and right (sic.) through the register and pocket the cash or refund the amount to Staples gift card which I would later use to purchase third party gift cards.” Harper said he used those gift cards at stores in Palm Coast, in Daytona Beach or online.
The loss prevention officer at the store told police that he began investigating the fraud in December, and later linked the fraud to Harper, who has his own unique log-in credentials for the Staples system. The investigation found that Harper would conduct the fraudulent transactions once or twice a week.
Staples has about 1,400 stores across the United States, but since facing competition from Target and Amazon, the company’s stock has fallen by more than half in the past four years, and the company announced plans to close 225 underperforming stores this year. It’s not clear whether the Palm Coast Staples is on that list. Adding to the company’s woes was a serious data breach last December, which affected the credit cards of more than 1 million customers at 115 of the company’s stores.