Ohio man convicted of defrauding Staples

Stephen Esway (Source: Boone County Detention Center)
Stephen Esway (Source: Boone County Detention Center)

COVINGTON, KY (FOX19) - A Canton, Ohio man has been convicted of fraudulently obtaining about a quarter of a million dollars from several Staples stores, including locations in Boone and Kenton counties.

Stephen A. Esway, 36, was convicted on a charge of wire fraud after a two-day trial. Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorneys Office proved that between 2001 and 2008, Esway purchased approximately $65,000 in merchandise at multiple Staples stores, but received refunds on his credit card in the amount of approximately $307,000.

Investigators say Esway bought expensive computer software then fraudulently returned similar but significantly less-expensive software in order to obtain full refunds of the purchase price.

He used this scheme in 17 different states over the seven year period.

Evidence at trial established that Esway obtained receipts for full version software, duplicated those receipts, then purchased less expensive educational versions of the same software. He applied the Universal Product Code (UPC) from the full version to the educational version, and resealed the box. The educational version was identical in appearance to the full version, except for having the word "education" written on the box in small print. When Esway returned with the receipt for the original product, cashiers scanned the altered UPC on the box which appeared to match the product.

Testimony at trial revealed that Esway never returned the educational software to the same Staples store where he purchased the original product. Esway executed his scheme by exploiting a loop hole in the computer system which failed to flag multiple returns relating to the same purchase transaction. According to the testimony of a Staples Loss Prevention Manager, this problem has been corrected.

Esway's sentencing has been set by the court for January 24, 2011, in Covington. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years.

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