COLUMBUS — The former manager of a local rent-to-own store is accused of using stolen identification to create several fake financial accounts in a scam that cost the business thousands of dollars.
Michael Schnelle, 43, is charged with two counts of identity theft $1,500-$5,000 and one count each of theft by unlawful taking $1,500-$5,000 and theft by deception $500-$1,500 in connection with the scheme at Aaron's, 3011 23rd St.
Platte County Court Judge Frank Skorupa scheduled the Clarkson man for a Jan. 11 status hearing on the charges. His bond was set at $10,000, 10 percent allowed for release.
An internal audit of the store’s operations uncovered the losses, representing about $250,000 in missing retail merchandise, which prompted a Columbus Police investigation in June.
Schnelle left his job as manager of the store shortly after being confronted with the theft allegations last summer.
A police spokesman said the complex, time-consuming financial probe resulted in Schnelle’s arrest about two weeks ago.
According to court documents, during the course of the investigation store employees reported that under Schnelle’s direction they were told to create bogus accounts by using customers’ Social Security numbers but changing the names on the accounts.
Investigator Gregory Sealock wrote in his probable cause arrest statement that the employees were told by Schnelle that the fake accounts were only being used to “prop up” store sales numbers.
As an example, Sealock wrote, an account using a real customer's Social Security number and false name was created May 8. Store items listed as sold included a sofa, love seat, two table lamps, cocktail table and two end tables.
The woman whose identification was altered said she didn’t purchase or receive the items, valued at $3,671, Sealock wrote in his statement.
Other customers’ accounts listed thousands of dollars in purchases of furniture and appliances they never bought or received, the investigator wrote.
Sealock wrote that store employees also reported that cash and credit card sales were not properly recorded, and instead used to spread minimum payments into fake accounts.
Identity theft and theft by unlawful taking are Class IV felonies, each punishable by up to two years in prison, 12 months of post-release supervision and a $10,000 fine. Theft by deception is a Class I misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of up to a year behind bars.