Crestwood Best Buy worker accused of defrauding company, customers

Lemay man charged with felony theft

By Gloria LLoyd

An employee of the Crestwood Best Buy has been charged with felony theft after allegedly confessing to defrauding the company and Crestwood customers to the tune of nearly $30,000 over the past few years.

On Dec. 15, the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed a class C felony charge for theft over $500 against the former employee, Ryan Holman, 29, who lives in the 8600 block of Shoss Avenue in Lemay.

Crestwood Police Department Detective Mike Ford said Holman confessed to both Best Buy corporate security and to the Crestwood Police Department that over a two-year period, he stole tens of thousands of dollars in a gift-card scam from the company — and, to a lesser extent, from customers who came into the store at 9450 Watson Road.

“He did confess to the Crestwood Police Department that yes, he had been up to some shenanigans,” Ford said. “He wrote out a confession to the Best Buy folks, and then he wrote a confession to our police officer.”

A probable-cause statement signed by Officer Michael Maloney of the Crestwood police said that the fraud dates from April 2, 2012 to Oct. 29, 2014.

Best Buy spokesman Jeff Shelman said in a statement, “We are disappointed that a former employee would engage in this alleged criminal fraud. These kind of actions go against everything we expect from our employees and everything we stand for as a company. After detecting the fraud, we immediately enlisted the help of the Crestwood Police Department. We are continuing to work with both the police and the St. Louis County Attorney’s office on the ongoing investigation.”

Although the specific details and the full extent of the different types of thefts are still unclear, Holman confessed to stealing roughly $29,000 from Best Buy through more than one fraudulent scheme, along with an additional $500 from customers who were due gift cards for signing up for cell-phone service, police said.

“When you’re doing this just a little bit at a time, over a year, two three, years, it adds up over time,” Ford said.

While the company can document its loss, whether any Best Buy customers were directly cheated beyond the $500 in gift cards outlined in the police report is still unclear and could be difficult to prove, Ford said — unless customers remembered they had contact with Holman and happened to still have their receipts that showed they were due gift cards they never received. Like the thefts from the company, the amount stolen from customers might have been in small increments, $25 here or there, that added up to significant money over a span of several years.

“I think more than anything what he was doing was shorting the company,” Ford said. “I can’t give you a dollar amount on any of this (with customers) because I just don’t know.”

In Maloney’s probable-cause statement for prosecutors, the officer wrote, “Defendant either kept gift cards that customers had legitimately qualified for (instead of giving them to the customers) or executed fraudulent activation transactions and kept the gift cards resulting from those transactions. The company estimated that defendant had stolen at least $20,000 in this fashion.”

Among the allegations, Ford told the Call that Holman confessed to making up names of phony customers who were due gift cards, then pocketing those gift cards for himself.

Random fraud checks by Best Buy uncovered that multiple customers with different names were all receiving their gift cards at a single address that led back to Holman, the employee who had rung up the transactions.

“They start noticing: Why are there all these different names and they all live at this same address, which happens to be an employee of ours?” Ford said.

Best Buy loss prevention agent Wade Trapp also detailed a second type of fraud, telling police that Best Buy security found that Holman allegedly stole roughly $20,000 from the company by overvaluing the electronics that customers would trade in for gift cards.

“I think what he was doing was, it may well have been a real customer that came in with a tablet or a phone that they wanted to trade in for a gift card,” Ford said. “And he would give them ‘X’ amount of dollars, but value it much higher when he reported it to Best Buy and pocket the difference — maybe the phone was actually worth $50, but when he rang it up through the system as $75, he would keep that $25.”

Crestwood police are experienced in retail theft from the heyday of Crestwood Plaza, Ford noted, when they were often called to the mall for suspected employee theft at the department stores. That type of theft can be difficult to detect, he added, and doesn’t necessarily reflect on Best Buy since it happens to all retail stores at some point or another.

“Everywhere in America there’s a bad apple, there’s somebody who’s going to try to take advantage of a system,” he said. “Clearly (Holman) developed some sort of a system here, and it worked well enough that he got away with it for awhile.”