Holiday Scam

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Operation Santa Fraud Tops $11,000

By Joe Foreman, Editor

As of Tuesday morning, one arrest had been made and more are expected to follow as the Glenwood Police Department continues its investigation into the use of forged vouchers that claim to be from the Operation Santa program in Mills County.

Over 220 of the fake $50 vouchers were cashed in earlier this month for purchases totaling more than $11,000, interim police chief Mike Mercer said. The vouchers were presented and accepted at four Glenwood businesses – Family Dollar, Newman’s Thriftway, Captain Video/Radio Shack and Pamida.

Operation Santa is a long-standing, Glenwood-based program established several years ago to assist needy families during the holiday season.

Dewey Stuart, 39, of Omaha was arrested last Wednesday night, Dec. 16, after he attempted to utilize one of the forged vouchers for a purchase at Pamida.

“He had four vouchers on his possession,” Mercer said.

Mercer said a few days before Stuart was arrested, some Glenwood merchants began voicing concern about the unusually high number of Operation Santa vouchers being cashed in this year.

“Credit the store people. They were the ones that started questioning the vouchers,” Mercer said. “The stores started questioning it because so many were coming through. Businesses were eventually provided a list of people that had received legitimate vouchers.”

Mercer said Stuart has been charged with forgery and conspiracy. The same charges were pending on Tuesday against Stacey Barrett, 35, of Omaha, Mercer said. The Mills County Attorney’s Office will determine if any additional charges are warranted against Stuart and Barrett.

Barrett, Mercer said, is believed to be a “ring leader” in the scheme that could involve several people. Mercer said Barrett is a relative to a Glenwood woman that received a legitimate Operation Santa voucher from the Mills County Storehouse, the overseer of the program. On the same night that Stuart was arrested, two women in possession of fake vouchers came to Pamida, but left the store before police officers arrived.

Mills County Storehouse spokesperson Barbara Kaiman, whose signature was forged on the fake vouchers, said she and other volunteers were “stunned” to learn of the scheme.

“I was horrified,” Kaiman said. “We are an organization completely comprised of volunteers and we will not let the horrendous deeds of a few people change our mission. We’ve helped out thousands of people. It’s tough because the people have been generous in how they’ve supported us.”

Kaiman said the Operation Santa program, which receives much of its funding through private donations and the sale of donated items at the Mills County Storehouse, will provide full compensation to Glenwood merchants that accepted the forged vouchers. The hope is that some of the merchandise purchased with the vouchers will be returned and the persons that carried out the scam will all be caught and be required to pay restitution.

Kaiman said 151 legitimate vouchers were issued this holiday season to needy families. She added that she’s committed to continuing the program into the future.

“The program was created for the right reasons,” she said. “We’ll just have to revamp how we do business.”