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Pair charged with wire, mail fraud in buying plot

Brett Barrouquere, Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Two men have been charged with switching bar codes on items at Home Depot stores in at least 20 states, buying items on the cheap and selling them for profit online.

David and Carson Cameron Vevay, Ind., face federal charges of mail fraud and wire fraud. In two criminal complaints, the U.S. Secret Service said the turned a profit off merchandise from Home Depot stores around the country over a four-year period, potentially defrauding the retail chain of more than $1.3 million.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin ordered the Cameron brothers freed on $25,000 each. Whalin placed both on home incarceration, which means they must be at home if not working or in court. A grand jury will hear the case against both men on Sept. 5..

The case involves the switching of universal product codes, also known as UPCs. The codes contain a product number and bar code that, when scanned into a computer, shows the price the items sells for.

Secret Service Agent John Eric Cothran said the two men struck in at least 20 states, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Illinois and New York.

Stephen Holmes, a spokesman for The Home Depot, wouldn't discuss the Cameron's case specifically. But he said the company routinely cooperates with law enforcement in such investigations.

"I think there is a misconception people have ... that this is somewhat of a petty crime," Holmes said. "It's far from a petty crime."

The brothers sold much of the merchandise through online auctioneer eBay Inc. A message left for the eBay media relations office was not immediately returned Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Calhoun told Whalin that Carson Cameron, who has a lengthy criminal history across multiple states, should have been held pending trial.

"He's traveled frequently ... and never stayed anywhere for too long," Calhoun said. "He's about as transient a person as you'll ever see."

Carson Cameron's court-appointed attorney, Don Meier, said his client is now holding down a job in the construction industry and isn't a danger to society.

"He has a place to live. He has a steady job," Meier said.

Calhoun did not object to bond being set for David Cameron.

The Camerons' scheme began in November 2007 and ran through August 2011, according to a criminal complaint filed by Cothran.

He said the plot worked like this:

One or both men would go into a Home Depot and switch the UPC on a higher-priced item with something at a lesser cost. The higher-priced item would be purchased at the lower cost and later sold on eBay for a profit.

In one instance, Cothran said, the men switched the price on a tankless water heater that normally sold for $749 at a Home Depot in Louisville. After buying the item for $200, the men sold it over eBay to a man in Texas for $565.

On another occasion, Cothran said, the men switched the UPC from two $189 recirculating pumps with the codes for a pair of $31 element kits and paid for the items with a credit card belonging to Carson Cameron. The sale left Home Depot with a $315 loss, Cothran wrote.

Investigators used databases to identify the two men's names and drivers' license photos and surveillance tapes to confirm their identities.

In September 2010, Secret Service agents set up a sting through eBay to purchase an item from Carson Cameron. Cothran said agents purchased an automatic gate opener that normally cost about $440 at Home Depot. Home Depot later confirmed that the item had been purchased for $144 because the UPC had been switched with another item.

Cothran said eBay closed the account used by the men in 2011.

Investigators later traced the Camerons to Texas, where they worked with at least three other people in selling stolen items on eBay, Cothran said. One of those people implicated the Camerons in a statement to investigators, leading to arrest warrants being issued. The Camerons had been working out of Unicoi, Tenn., until April 2011, when investigators raided the home they had been using.

After that, the men went to Wisconsin and eventually ended up in Indiana, where they were arrested Wednesday evening.


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