A St. Cloud woman and three juveniles have been charged with swindling an Eden Prairie department store out of almost $2,500 by removing tags from expensive merchandise, then receiving store credit after “returning” the stolen items.
Michelle Maria Elaina Zaragoza, 25, is charged with felony theft by swindle, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. She is also charged with a gross misdemeanor count of attempted theft by swindle, which has a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
Eden Prairie police were called to the Von Maur department store in Eden Prairie Center on Aug. 23 to investigate a report of suspects making fraudulent returns to the store, according to the criminal complaint, signed by Eden Prairie Police Officer Travis Serafin.
A Von Maur loss prevention officer showed police surveillance video in which Zaragoza and three juvenile females seemed to be about to remove tags from expensive items, then take them directly to a sales counter for return store credits. The officer said the four were believed to be part of a shoplifting ring that had stolen from Von Maur in the past, the complaint said.
The officer told police that one of the juveniles was spotted carrying an empty Von Maur bag, according to the complaint. The girl selected two dresses and put them into the bag, then moved to another department, where she asked a sales associate where she could make a return.
The girl approached a register in the store’s accessories department and asked to return some merchandise. The loss prevention officer called the department and advised the floor manager to deny the return.
At the same time, the loss prevention officer received a call from a customer service agent, who said another juvenile female was trying to return two evening gowns without a receipt. The officer advised the agent to deny that return as well, according to the complaint.
A third juvenile female successfully returned several ready-to-wear dresses for merchandise credits, as did Zaragoza, according to the complaint. Zaragoza then attempted to use the store credit voucher to acquire new merchandise.
The four were apprehended, and admitted to the loss prevention officer that they had made successful fraudulent returns at the store in the past.
Authorities determined that Zaragoza and the three juveniles tried to return eight dresses valued at $2,801 on Aug. 23. They also discovered that the four had successfully received fraudulent merchandise credit totaling $2,448 on Aug. 17 and Aug. 21.
Zaragoza has been released from custody pending further court appearances. No information was immediately available about upcoming court dates.