Two men plead guilty to scam in six states

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. -- Two men from Tennessee pleaded guilty to federal fraud and conspiracy charges in a scam against discount retailer Wal-Mart that covered six states.

The men, and an accomplice who is expected to plead guilty next week, stole gift cards and racked up about $35,000 in purchases before they were caught. The trio targeted dozens of Wal-Marts in Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama and Georgia.

James Davis, 19, faces between eight and 14 months in prison, while Cameron James, 21, could receive from 15 to 21 months, federal prosecutors said. Deborah Cusack, 18, is expected to plead guilty at a hearing next Monday, they said. All are from Nashville.

According to authorities, the defendants would take Wal-Mart gift cards to cashiers to have them encoded with a certain value, usually $400.

Immediately after it was encoded -- but before paying -- the trio would switch the card for a blank one and then find a reason to end the transaction. They would hand the blank card back to the cashier and leave, authorities said.

The stolen cards were used to buy goods, which were either kept or returned for cash refunds. Police said the suspects had thousands of dollars in electronics and other merchandise, and maps showing the locations of Wal-Mart stores.

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