ST. ALBANS CITY — A former Walmart employee accused of embezzling up to $250,000 accepted a plea agreement in court here Wednesday.
Ronald Downes Jr., of Berkshire, pleaded “no contest” to a felony embezzlement charge.
A no contest plea is not equivalent to a guilty plea. It’s a legal acknowledgement that the State could prove its case to a jury, but it is not considered a legal admission of guilt.
The plea agreement sentences Downes to 60 days to five years, all suspended but 60 days, which Downes serves on a work crew, with three years’ probation.
It also includes a hefty restitution order. Downes has to pay $75,000 in monthly $50 increments beginning May 1.
If that amount holds, Downes will be on the line for $50 a month for 125 years. He’s currently 42 years old.
Downes admitted to embezzling money from the St. Albans Walmart, according to a court affidavit by St. Albans Police Dept. Det. Sgt. Joseph Thomas. According to that affidavit, Downes estimated he’d stolen $4,000-$5,000, which he said he took to pay living costs: propane, electricity, food.
A Walmart asset protection officer audited the St. Albans store’s cash recycler — basically, the store’s vault — after it reported 12 shortages from September 2017 to January 2018, ranging from a shortage of $8,706 to a shortage of $68,248.
The shortages totaled $262,555.
The asset protection officer, Ryan Hennebury, determined the recycler showed a shortage a week or a month after each time Downes cleaned it.
Hennebury wrote he reviewed security footage — per Thomas’s affidavit — and realized Downes frequently placed cash cassettes “strategically out of camera view,” behavior “not consistent with One Best Way recycler policy.”
“One Best Way” is Walmart’s procedural guidelines and policies manual.
Walmart terminated Downes’ employment after Hennebury’s investigation, at which point Hennebury notified the St. Albans Police Dept. of the situation.
Hennebury said Walmart was also planning to prosecute Downes, according to Thomas’s affidavit.
Thomas said when he went to personally speak to Downes, Downes refused. Downes said his attorney advised him against speaking, according to Thomas’s affidavit.
The court arraigned Downes on the embezzlement charge on June 13, 2018.
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