Three women charged in gift-card theft scheme at Champaign Target

Three women charged in gift-card theft scheme at Champaign Target

URBANA — Three of four women arrested last week in Champaign in connection with a gift-card theft scheme at a Champaign retailer were criminally charged Wednesday.

Appearing in court Wednesday for arraignment on a charge of theft over $10,000 were Dejujuana Poke, 20, of Savoy, Asia Neely, 22, of Dolton, and Lakeya Miller, 30, who listed an address in the 400 block of Glenn Drive, Urbana.

A fourth woman, Symone Simmons, 26, who listed an address in the 1300 block of North Lincoln Avenue, Urbana, was issued a notice to appear in court Jan. 16 to face a similar charge.

According to a Champaign police report, the women were allegedly responsible for the theft of several thousand dollars worth of merchandise and gift cards from Target, 2102 N. Prospect Ave., C, between Dec. 13 and Jan. 3.

The report said security officials at the store became aware that Poke, who was employed as a cashier over the holidays, had accepted counterfeit motion picture bills from four unknown people on two occasions between Dec. 13 and 27.

By viewing store security video, the officials learned that Poke allegedly accepted the fake bills without counting them, put them in the cash drawer and gave no change in exchange for about $13,176 worth of gift cards and merchandise, such as high-end vacuum cleaners and air purifiers.

Champaign police detectives were at the store Jan. 3 when Poke was working and watched as she again accepted bills from women in exchange for several prepaid Visa gift cards totaling thousands of dollars.

Police interrupted those transactions and arrested the group.

Poke admitted to police that she accepted the counterfeit cash on at least three occasions, and that she did so at the direction of Simmons, whom she had met on a dating app.

Miller, who police said had nine counterfeit $50 bills in her purse, declined to talk to police.

Police said Neely had a plastic bag with a dozen $100 Visa gift cards, receipts and seven fake $50 bills in her purse. She admitted knowing the money was not real. She said she got it from a man she knew as "Thug."

Police also interviewed juvenile females who were with the adult women and learned that Simmons had driven them to Target in mid-December, given them fake bills and instructed them to "clear the wall" of Visa gift cards.

They were told to take the cards to a specific clerk, later determined to be Poke, and buy them with the fake cash. They then gave the activated gift cards to Simmons and were given $100 for their work.

The juveniles said they carried out the scheme twice before being caught on the third attempt last Thursday.

A search warrant was obtained for Simmons' Urbana apartment, where police said they found 92 counterfeit $50 bills, 12 Visa cards for $200 each, and nine $100 Visa gift cards.

Judge John Kennedy informed Poke, Miller and Neely that they faced penalties ranging from probation to three to seven years in prison upon conviction.

Poke and Neely were told to be back in court March 5, while Miller asked for a probable-cause hearing, which was set for Jan. 29.

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