TARPON SPRINGS — Police have arrested a man and a woman accused of carrying out a complex, wide-ranging scam involving shoplifting and then returning low-priced merchandise.
Holiday resident Ashley Gionet, 21, and Palm Harbor resident Brandon Sage, 26, were each arrested this week by the Tarpon Springs Police Department on a felony charge of scheming to defraud and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.
Sage was also found to have a felony arrest warrant for robbery out of Hillsborough County, according to Pinellas County Jail records.
Arrest affidavits filed by Tarpon Springs police say Gionet and Sage were observed in December shoplifting some inexpensive boat accessories from the Walmart at 41232 U.S. 19 N, just north of E Tarpon Avenue. Two days later, they were observed by store security officials returning the same accessories, investigators said.
Tarpon Springs detectives said Gionet and Sage were stealing items that cost less than $10, which can be returned without triggering certain security provisions at the store. They would have credit for the merchandise placed onto gift cards.
When the value of the gift cards reached $100, they would sell the cards to pawn shops to cover their tracks, Tarpon Springs police Capt. Jeffrey Young said.
Young said the police investigation is ongoing and may involve other stores besides the Walmart in Tarpon Springs. Tarpon police have contacted other law enforcement agencies in Pinellas and Pasco counties about potential thefts, he said.
Young said it was the first time he'd seen such a scheme involving low-dollar-item shoplifting, gift cards and pawn shops.
"Criminals are always looking for a new and better way to put one over on people," he said.
Sage was being held at the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $25,150 bail, according to jail records. Gionet was released on a surety bond.
Peter Jamison can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.