Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 1, 2013

Man caught switching price tags

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — A man who was arrested in Lockport following an alleged four-state crime spree has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of possessing false identification documents and unauthorized access devices.

Luis Alcalar Vasquez, 36, a citizen of Mexico, is accused of switching price tags on low-end merchandise and affixing the tags to high-end products. He would then purchase the expensive item at low cost, according to U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr.

According to the indictment and a criminal complaint filed in April, Vasquez obtained the high-end merchandise at various Home Depot stores in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and New York by scanning bar codes for lower ticketed items at self check-out stations.

Vasquez scanned the bar codes for the lower cost items but took the more expensive items out of the stores. For example, the defendant scanned the bar code for a sink priced at $59.95 but actually left the store with a sink costing $444.79. He then returned the higher ticketed merchandise to another Home Depot location in exchange for stored-value cards, which are similar to prepaid cards but generally aren't affiliated with an issuer.    In early March, Home Depot became aware that the “ticket-switch” and refund transactions were being executed at stores in Western New York. On March 7 at stores in West Seneca, Buffalo, and Cheektowaga sinks costing $444.79 were exchanged for stored-value cards in that amount.   Later on March 7, at Home Depot’s store on Transit Road in Lockport, Vasquez tried to use a California driver’s license bearing his picture but a different name, in order to return merchandise valued at $700.55.

However, Home Depot personnel stopped the transaction and called Niagara County Sheriff’s Office deputies to the Lockport store, where they took Vasquez into custody.

Niagara County Sheriff’s Office investigators found Vasquez  had 20 false California drivers licenses in three different names but all bearing the defendant’s picture, and 17 Home Depot stored value cards worth approximately $5,910. Two cell phones with bar codes taped to their backs were also found on Vasquez.    The losses to Home Depot from the fraud exceed $30,000.     The indictment is the culmination of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office.    The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison terms and a $250,000 fine.