Police: Woman involved in Buckhannon Lowe’s theft ring arrested by drug and crime unit

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Johnna Courtney

BUCKHANNON – The Mountain Lakes Drug and Violent Crime Unit arrested two people – one of whom was allegedly involved in a theft ring targeting the Buckhannon Lowe’s – while executing several outstanding search warrants at a Hall Road residence on Wednesday, Jan. 9.

According to a press release from the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department sent to media outlets Friday, the unit arrested Johnna D. Courtney, 37, of Buckhannon, and Garry William Moran II, 38, and seized a variety of illegal drugs and a large amount of cash while executing outstanding search warrants from both Upshur and Marion counties at 5611 Hall Road.

“During this search, officers and task force agents seized heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodone and a large sum of U.S. currency,” the release states, noting the drug-related investigation is ongoing.

Criminal complaints filed in the Upshur County Magistrate Clerk’s office indicate that Moran has been charged with driving revoked for DUI, second offense, and destruction of property.

In addition, a complaint filed by investigating officer Cpl. Victor Pyles with the Buckhannon detachment of the West Virginia State Police charges Courtney with fraudulent schemes, a felony, and conspiracy, a felony. The charges are connected to Courtney’s alleged role in “an ongoing retail theft ring being conducted at the Buckhannon Lowe’s location,” according to the report in the magistrate clerk’s office.

The charges against Courtney stem from a series of incidents that allegedly took place between April 2018 and June 2018.

According to the file, Pyles received a complaint from Lowe’s Loss Prevention regarding the alleged theft ring. Store officials provided Pyles with a variety of evidence, including video footage, sales transaction records and photographs of the individuals reportedly involved in the thefts.

The report says that Courtney and two other individuals – identified as Sydney Williams and Carly Arbogast – utilized a strategy known as DSFR or direct sales floor returns to steal more than $1,000 worth of merchandise.

According to Pyles, here’s how the strategy works: one person selects merchandise from the sales floor, and without paying for it, walks up to the customer service desk to try to return it without a receipt. The monetary value of the merchandise, in addition to state sales tax, is applied to a Lowe’s gift card and returned to the person via the gift card.

“This technique involves a person or persons gaining merchandise from the sales floor, walking to the front service desk, and conducting a no receipt return under the assumption that the merchandise was actually purchased,” Pyles explained in the file. “The money, plus WV sales tax, is then returned to the returning party in the form of an in-store gift card.”

Courtney allegedly redeemed most of the cards fraudulently obtained at the Buckhannon Lowe’s location, the complaint states.

The complaint goes on to detail a series of incidents during a three-month period beginning in April 2018 and ending in June 2018 in which Courtney “knowingly used a fraudulently obtained gift card” to purchase merchandise at Buckhannon Lowe’s. The cards were originally obtained by Williams, Arbogast or Courtney herself.

For instance, on May 7, 2018, Courtney allegedly entered Buckhannon Lowe’s and “knowing used fraudulently obtained gift cards” acquired by Williams and Arbogast, both of whom Pyles labels as defendants in the case. On that day, Courtney had allegedly used a gift card valued at $278.90 that had been fraudulently obtained to purchase store merchandise.

In another incident that allegedly occurred at Buckhannon Lowe’s on June 2, 2018, Courtney returned to Lowe’s and again used gift cards issued in the amount of $188.58 that Pyles said had been allegedly fraudulent obtained by Courtney herself on May 31, 2018. On the same day, Pyles’ report claims that Courtney also used a gift card allegedly fraudulently acquired by Williams. That card had a value of $153.59.

Pyles report alleges Courtney redeemed a total of $1,002.73 in Lowe’s gift cards throughout the three-month period.

However, in an interview with Pyles, Courtney denied knowing the gift cards had been fraudulently acquired and “advised that she (Courtney) paid half price for the cards she gained form Sydney Williams and Carly Arbogast,” the complaint states.

That story didn’t match the one both Arbogast and Williams told Pyles, however.

“Williams and Arbogast advised in their interviews that (Johnna Courtney) did in fact know that the cards were obtained via DSFR (direct sales floor returns),” Pyles wrote in the report.

Courtney is being held in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail on a $25,000 bond.

The penalty for a conviction of fraudulent schemes is imprisonment for a term of one to 10 years in the state penitentiary, or in the discretion of the court, up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Meanwhile, a guilty verdict on the charge of felony conspiracy would result in confinement in the state penitentiary for one to five years and a five of up to $10,000.

Courtney is being held in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail on a $25,000 bond.

Meanwhile, Garry Moran – the man who was arrested Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the same Hall Road residence as Courtney – is being held in TVRJ on a $15,000 bond from Upshur County and an $100,000 bond from Marion County.

Garry Moran