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Wal-Mart workers arrested in thefts

Seven employees are accused of just pretending to pay for items. Nine others have been fired.

By S.I. ROSENBAUM
Published August 24, 2006

GIBSONTON - For weeks, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office says, Wal-Mart employees on the night shift helped themselves to merchandise.

Deputy Phil Merkle said the workers didn't directly pocket the items, because they knew they were being watched by videocameras.

Instead, they went through the motions of buying things in the checkout line at the end of their shifts, hoping that whoever was watching the video footage wouldn't catch the ruse.

By switching price tags, Merkle said, some employees bought big-ticket items for just a few dollars - including a plasma-screen computer monitor for $3.33.

Others pretended to scan in small items, walking away with snack food, clothing and cigarettes for free. Altogether, the stolen merchandise was worth about $3,500, the Sheriff's Office said.

"It was clothes, panties, things for the kids, packs of Doritos," Merkle said. "They were using it as a one-stop shop on the third shift."

One or two cashiers had a reputation for allowing co-workers to pass through checkout lanes without paying, he said. Co-workers repaid the favor by doing the same for those cashiers.

"Everybody got to go 'shopping,' " Merkle said.

But Wal-Mart store detectives got suspicious, he said. They assembled a collection of video footage paired with register receipts - enough evidence, Merkle said, for seven arrests.

Arrested were:

Kiarrah Clifton, 19, of 11906 Fern Blossom Drive, Gibsonton; Dulce Contreras, 22, of 5711 Hillsborough St., Wimauma; Yudit Grisanty De Robles, 25, of 814 Providence Trace Circle, Brandon; Denise Miranda, 24, of 812 Heather Noel Court, Brandon; Erick Morales, 19, of 6003 Alice Ave., Gibsonton; Mariella Ruiz, 29, of 12939 Early Run Lane, Riverview; and Brandi Smith, 20, of 9608 Hagadorn Road, Riverview;

All were charged with theft and with conspiring to defraud the store. For all but one, it was their first arrest, court records show.

Merkle said Wal-Mart also fired nine other employees who were implicated in the scheme but not arrested.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442 or srosenbaum@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 24, 2006, 01:11:02]


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