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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, September 26, 2014

Ringleader In UPC Switching Fraud Scheme Sentenced To Five Years In Federal Prison

Tampa, FL – U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore has sentenced Robert James Mercer (46, Tampa) to five years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The Court also entered a money judgment in the amount of $130,000, which represents the proceeds of the conspiracy. Mercer pleaded guilty on June 19, 2014. He was sentenced on September 23, 2014.

According to court documents, from at least November 2013 through April 4, 2014, Mercer, along with his co-defendants and others, traveled to Wal-Mart stores in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Colorado, Texas, and elsewhere for the purpose of defrauding the retailer.

To facilitate the fraud, the co-conspirators, primarily Mercer, purchased prepaid debit cards from Green Dot and Wal-Mart using cash. By purchasing these prepaid cards at Wal-Mart, the conspirators received legitimate merchandise receipts showing high value cash purchases. The conspirators then altered these original receipts to make them appear as if they had resulted from a merchandise purchase. The fake receipts were then used to return items for cash.

In order to obtain the items, the conspirators purchased high value merchandise using counterfeited or altered Universal Product Codes (UPC). For example, with an altered UPC code, a whole-house water filtration system, which normally sold for hundreds of dollars, would ring up for $19. The conspirators then returned the items to a different Wal-Mart store, using a counterfeited receipt, and obtained cash refunds for the actual retail price of the items.

The co-conspirators in this case confirmed that Mercer supervised them, controlled the proceeds of the fraud, and paid the others for their roles in this scheme. The loss to Wal-Mart is estimated at almost $200,000.

Four others were also charged in this case. Luis Schomaker was charged by a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Co-conspirators David Dunn, Sandra Walker, and Michael Odhiambo have each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and will be sentenced at a later date.

This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mandy Riedel.

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Updated January 26, 2015