Charlotte NC March 25 2020
A team of counterfeiters from North Carolina is accused of scamming hundreds of Walmart stores in dozens of states by claiming to be company executives buying gift cards for charities, a new court document shows.
The wide-ranging conspiracy, which includes a Charlotte man, victimized 300 Walmarts in 30 states, resulting in losses to the company of almost $900,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.
The counterfeiters, presenting themselves as Walmart corporate executives, persuaded inexperienced store cashiers to cash phony checks with routing numbers tied to more than a dozen banks, including of Bank of America and PNC Bank, an indictment shows.
The crime ring reached stores stores in half of the continental United States, prosecutors say. It also cut across a wide swath of western North Carolina to target Walmarts in Charlotte and neighboring towns, reaching as far away as Asheville.
During a one-month period in late 2017, according to the indictment, the ring passed $2,019.74 SunTrust and Regions Bank checks to purchase pre-paid Walmart debit cards in Charlotte, Wadesboro, Asheville and Statesville.
Often, prosecutors allege, the conspirators used the debit cards to buy merchandise at one Walmart only to return it for cash refunds at stores in other towns to evade scrutiny.
The revelations are included in a multi-count indictment unsealed this month by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte. It accuses Andre Marquese White of Charlotte of being a member of the counterfeit ring and charges him with counterfeiting, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy, among other crimes.
Last week, White, 34, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Charlotte and was freed on $25,000 bond.
In a separate document, prosecutors say they are looking for another co-conspirator whose name was redacted from White’s indictment.
Walmart, one of the world’s largest retailers, has some 2.2 million employees along with 11,500 stores and clubs in 27 countries.
The chain’s big boxes and distinctive logo now dominate many towns’ retail economies. Moreover, they have long been a magnet for crime.
Within the N.C. crime ring, the con followed the same script at Target stores.
As described in the indictment, White and his partners would pose as Walmart bigwigs or the representatives of a non-existent charity. Using “social-engineering techniques,” one member of the group would distract the cashier while another fronting the fake charity would present the counterfeit check, ostensibly to purchase debit cards for needy clients.
The so-called Walmart executive would insist to the cashier that it was company policy to accept such checks, which sometimes included misspellings, the indictment shows.
If the cashier called a superior, one of the scammers would intercept and distract the manager with questions, according to the indictment.
When Walmart investigators would catch on and begin canceling the purchased cards, the conspirators had a counter move: laundering money from the cards by using it to buy pre-paid cards from Walmart’s retail competitors.
The investigation continues.