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Man pleads guilty in bar code fraud

Associated Press

ATLANTA — A Georgia man pleaded guilty Thursday to taking part in a scheme that used switched bar codes to steal more than $200,000 in rugs and other merchandise from Home Depot and Lowe’s stores across the South.

Marcus Abercrombie, 34, faces up to 15 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines when he is sentenced on fraud and conspiracy charges on June 28, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta said.

Two accomplices in the scheme — David Oliver, of Hampton, Ga., and his wife, Mindy Oliver — pleaded guilty on Jan. 20 to fraud charges, federal prosecutors said. A prosecution spokeswoman could not immediately say when they would be sentenced or how much time in prison they faced.

The three were accused of taking bar codes from cheaper items and affixing them to high-end rugs at the home-improvement stores in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Investigators say the three would return the rugs at other Home Depot and Lowe’s stores for a refund of the actual price. In Home Depot’s case, when people return items without receipts the store routinely gives vouchers for a store credit.

The thieves would take the vouchers and sell them on the Internet auction site eBay or through a pawn shop run by Abercrombie, authorities said. They would also buy items with the gift card vouchers, including refrigerators, faucets and other household goods, and sell those items on eBay.

The scheme went on for nearly two years before they were arrested by Secret Service agents in December 2003. When federal agents announced details of the crime at the time they said the stores were defrauded of at least $150,000. On Thursday, they said the amount was more than $200,000.

As part of his plea agreement, Abercrombie forfeited over $186,000 to pay for restitution to Home Depot and Lowe’s, the government said.

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