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Four workers charged in Wal-Mart thefts

Authorities say a security camera was set up in a stocking area after wrappers from items were found.

Published December 23, 2003

BROOKSVILLE - Four Wal-Mart employees were arrested on Sunday after they were accused of stealing more than $4,000 worth of electronics, video games, movies and knives from the Brooksville store.

Among the items allegedly stolen from the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 13300 Cortez Blvd. was the DVD How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the video game True Crime.

Authorities uncovered the scheme, which included code words to conceal the illegal activity, on Dec. 19 when the store's loss prevention officer found wrappers that had been left in the rear stocking area, a sheriff's report said.

After mounting a security camera in the area, the loss prevention officer saw two employees, identified as Brandon L. Martinez, 18, and Christopher M. Soults, 20, ripping the packaging off various items and stuffing them inside their clothing, the report said.

Sheriff's deputies began investigating the case when a store manager decided to press charges.

During questioning, both Martinez and Soults implicated receiving manager Stephanie Philpot, 19, and another employee, Melissa Abbott, 21. According to the report, the men claimed they had been approached by Philpot, who, they said, asked them if they were interested in stealing and told them how to steal without being detected.

It was unclear how long the thefts had been going on. But Martinez told authorities that for about one month he would open boxes in the distribution center, remove them from their packaging and stash them in the receiving area, the report stated.

As part of the investigation, officers searched vehicles of three employees. DVD videos, digital cameras and video game cartridges were recovered from Martinez and Soults' vehicles, while a radar detector was found in Abbott's car. Soults also had a stolen radar detector in his car, the report stated.

Officers then went to Soults' home at 4225 Jason Road, where they recovered DVD movies, video games, numerous knives, walkie-talkies and a digital camera. Similar items were found at 1239 Lodge Circle, where Martinez lived, the report said.

Investigators recovered stolen video games, DVDs and a digital camera from 7417 Sealawn Drive, Philpot's residence. She said Soults and Martinez would steal the items and give them to her outside the store but denied telling them how to avoid detection.

Martinez, Soults and Philpot were arrested and charged with grand theft and were being held at Hernando County jail on $5,000 bail.

Abbott was charged as a principal to grand theft because investigators determined that she had not actually stolen the goods but received the property outside the store. She was also being held on $5,000 bail.

Store manager Chuck Nix said all four employees will be fired.

- Duane Bourne can be reached at 352 754-6114. Send e-mail to

[Last modified December 23, 2003, 01:33:41]

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