Some two dozen Walmart employees are now former employees. Just before the holidays, these people are now making way to the unemployment line after being arrested and charged in an embezzlement scheme that involved fraudulently loading gift cards at the Palm Desert Walmart.
It is an increasingly problematic crime at Walmart – intentionally misusing coupons at self-checkout registers to get massive amounts of overage, loading that overage onto gift cards in an attempt to evade detection, then using those gift cards to go on a spending spree and this time it is an inside job.
The elaborate scheme took place over a two week period in September of 2016 according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. A fraudulent coupon code helped the suspects make more than 1,000 unauthorized transactions Sept. 7-18. As a result, these people used these gift cards to purchase groceries, electronics, and various other items. Purchases were made at a number of Walmart stores in the area, including the one where the suspects worked.
A department spokesman has not yet clarified whether it was an override code was required to approve actual coupons that were scanned, or whether the suspects were manually adding coupon discounts to their transactions without scanning any actual coupons at all. Regardless, more than 1,000 unauthorized transactions were reported and the former employees are suspected of embezzling more than $25,000.
The investigation started on November 2, 2017, after Walmart reported the possible embezzlement to the Palm Desert Business District Team. Through the course of the investigation, 24 different suspects were identified and with the assistance of various agencies both within Walmart and the local police and sheriff’s department 22 of those known suspects were arrested at work at the Palm Desert Walmart.
Of those 22 arrested, 15 of the suspects were charged and booked for embezzlement and conspiracy charges, as well as unauthorized computer access and fraud. Both men and women with ages ranging from age 19 to age 53
They are named as follows –
- Lidia Estrada, 33-year-old resident of Palm Springs
- Daniel Gonzalez, 41-year-old resident of Palm Desert
- Marianne Calizo, 21-year-old resident of Palm Desert
- Maria Zelaya, 26-year-old resident of Desert Hot Springs
- Imauny Marshall, 19-year-old resident of Cathedral City
- Carol Collins, 49-year-old resident of Desert Hot Springs
- Noemi Zelaya, 29-year-old resident of Desert Hot Springs
- Maria Contreras, 42-year-old resident of La Quinta
- Ariadna Mayorga, 21-year-old resident of Desert Hot Springs
- Alicia Herrera, 53-year-old resident of Desert Hot Springs
- Miguel Esteban, 25-year-old resident of Bermuda Dunes
- Roberto Luna, 29-year-old resident of La Quinta
- Selene Melchor-Molina, 31-year-old resident of Desert Hot Springs
- Amy Vasquez, 31-year-old resident of La Quinta
- Edwin Rios, 19-year-old resident of Desert Hot Springs
Six of the suspects were released pending a further and more detailed investigation as to the part they played in the embezzlement and theft scheme. Additionally, as a result of information obtained during the investigation much of the property purchased with the fraudulent Walmart gift cards were able to be recovered.
Walmart issued a statement regarding the embezzlement ring that conspired to rip the company off stating –
“We’re disturbed by these allegations and will continue working closely with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department on their investigation. All other questions must be referred to local law enforcement.”