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Man Charged: Altering Price Tags

Some people buy things on sale, and a few people make their own "sales," by changing price tags. Fairfax County police believe Craig James Herberg is in the latter category.

They say he allegedly tampered with the bar code on merchandise at the Fair Lakes Target store and, last Wednesday, Dec. 11, they charged him with both grand larceny and with altering a price tag. Herberg, 51, lives at 4614 Tapestry Drive in Fairfax.

In a Dec. 10 affidavit for a search warrant to seek evidence against him in his home, police Det. Bill Baitinger presented details of the case. He said that, because of a large amount of recent thefts in the Target store's electronics area, asset-protection employees were monitoring the department via the store's surveillance camera.

According to the detective, in mid-October, Louis Durand, Target's asset-protection manager, began to notice that the store's inventory of Vtech 2520 portable telephones was getting low. He checked store-register transactions in reference to the sale of these phones and found some discrepancies.

He found that, on Oct. 13 and on Oct. 19, someone had purchased these normally $179.99 phones for $59.99. He checked the surveillance-camera tapes in the electronics department for those dates and, wrote Baitinger, "he observed a white male in his 50s selecting two of the phones on each date and paying for them at one of the registers."

Durand then scanned the registers from those dates and pulled up the actual sales on his monitor. [The tape] showed, on both occasions, the same subject purchasing each of these phones for $59.99 in cash — not the normal $179.99 each price. Durand then began a system of counting and checking the price tags on the Vtech 2520 telephones, every day, in hopes that the subject would return.

On Nov. 14, employee Michael Olivo was working asset protection at the Target store and had just counted the Vtech 2520 telephones. He left the department briefly and, when he returned, he noticed two phones missing. In the asset-protection office, he reviewed the surveillance-camera tape and observed a white male enter the electronics department and approach the display of Vtech cordless telephones.

"The subject picked up one telephone with both hands and appeared to be rubbing the top of the box," wrote Baitinger. "[He] then selected a second Vtech cordless telephone and [did the same thing] again. The subject then placed both telephones in a cart and left the department."

Next, Olivo pulled up the present-time camera and saw that the same person was approaching the cash registers. He left the office and approached the man before the sales transaction at the register was completed. He identified himself and obtained the two telephones from the cashier.

"He noticed that a bar code printed on a piece of paper had been placed over [the] top of the store's original bar code," wrote Baitinger. "He then [allegedly] identified the subject as Craig Herberg, 4614 Tapestry Drive, Fairfax, Va., from a Virginia driver's license he produced."

Olivo questioned Herberg but, according to the detective, Herberg "denied any knowledge as to how the bar code had been changed." Olivo kept the two telephones with the fake bar codes and allowed Herberg to leave the store. He then went to the Vtech telephone display and inspected the other boxes, but didn't find any more with the fake bar code attached.

Once Baitinger was assigned the case, he reviewed the events of Oct. 13, Oct. 19 and Nov. 14 and watched the store's videotapes. Wrote the detective: "In all three cases, it was obvious that it was the same subject, Craig Herberg, involved."

Baitinger and Herberg spoke on Dec. 3 and, wrote Baitinger, Herberg admitted to being in the Target store on Nov. 14, but denied knowing anything about the switched bar code. "I then explained the cases on Oct. 13 and Oct. 19 that I had viewed on the surveillance videotapes," wrote the detective. "Mr. Herberg at that point said he would have to talk to an attorney before answering anymore questions."

The conversation ended, but Baitinger told Herberg that he'd be obtaining arrest warrants for him at a later date. "Approximately five minutes later, I received a telephone call from Mr. Herberg," wrote the detective. "He said he had rethought his position and wanted to know if he could make restitution in lieu of being charged. I explained that it was up to Target asset protection, and I told him I would check. I later called Louis Durand and found they did wish to prosecute the case criminally."

After examining the bogus bar code obtained Nov. 14, Baitinger said it appears to have been computer-generated and transferred onto a piece of pre-cut paper. He then requested a search warrant for Herberg's home to try to find Vtech cordless telephones, model 2520, records or documents pertaining to their sale and any computers, hardware and software — and any other equipment — capable of producing counterfeit bar codes.

The search warrant was executed Dec. 11, and items seized by police included: Two Vtech 2520 boxes (empty), four Vtech 2520 telephone handsets, three Vtech 2520 telephone cradles, a bar code on a piece of paper, a $93 money order marked "two Vtech [e]xtra phones," two Vtech telephones/cradles still in boxes, a box containing bar codes and pictures of items, computers and associated hardware and software.

Police arrested Herberg that same day, charging him with one count of altering a price tag and two counts of grand larceny. He was released from jail on $7,500 bond and has a Feb. 10 court date. If convicted of all three charges, he could receive as much as 11 years in prison.