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Michigan man gets 2½ years in federal prison for fraudulent returns at Home Depot stores

A Michigan man who switched price stickers on Home Depot products and then returned the items for refunds was sentenced Thursday to 2 ½ years in prison in a multi-state scheme that cost the big retailer more than $300,000.

Larry D. Fields, Chris M. Smith and others executed the scam over two years at more than 100 Home Depot stores in 13 states, according to federal agents.

Fields appeared Thursday in federal court in Flint, a few months after Smith was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison for his role.

The fraud was simple but lucrative: They took bar code stickers off inexpensive items and placed them on goods that cost more before paying at a self-checkout register. The items later were returned to Home Depot with the original higher price code.

Refunds were put on Home Depot store cards that were peddled to others. Some items that weren't immediately returned were put in storage in the Detroit area or resold for a profit.

After his arrest last May, Smith met with Home Depot officials and "offered suggestions as to how to improve store security measures in order to prevent similar schemes from occurring in the future," Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Vance said in a court filing.

During one of Smith's many visits to a store, he bought lights worth $530 for just $40. He got a bath drain costing $85 for $4.20 after switching bar codes. Other products included a chain saw, hand truck, shower drains and ceiling tiles.

In Atlanta, Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes said the company was grateful for the work of federal agents. He declined to say whether the case has influenced how the retailer puts prices on its products.

"I wouldn't be able to discuss any of our security measures, even in general," Holmes said.

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