‘Spotting good deal’ no crime, lawyer says of NJ woman charged in online store ripoff
BRICK — The only thing she might be guilty of is extreme couponing, says the attorney defending the woman authorities say stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods from online retailers thanks to a web glitch she exploited.
Romela Velazquez, 24, and her husband, Kimy, were arrested Aug. 3 after authorities said she took advantage of a glitch in the Lowe's company website to get more than $200,000 worth of stuff delivered to her home. The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office said Velazquez then turned around and sold many of the items, posting them on local buy/sell group on Facebook.
Attorney Jef Henninger says his client disputes the charges, saying she is an immigrant mother trying to provide for her family — not a web hacker.
"She's not an MIT graduate, she's not a computer engineer. It just defies logic that she would be the one person out of seven billion to figure this out," he told New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday, a day after news of the arrests.
"Like many young mothers, she needs to stretch every dollar that she can. As a result, she learned how to spot good deals."
Henninger said it is not uncommon for people to buy items at a discount from a store and then re-sell them to make money for themselves.
"Things like that are perfectly legal," he said. "it's just that the average person doesn't pick up on those things."
He said thanks to websites and online forums people are able to learn about ways to get discounts more easily than they could have in the past.
"I don't know how with these computer cases, unless there's a camera on you at your house, or unless there's a confession, I don't really understand how you can pin something on somebody to say that they sat behind a computer and did something," he said. "I'm not aware of either of those two things happening in this case."
Authorities have not said what the woman did to get the unlawful freebies from the online shopping site. Her attorney says investigators have not had the chance to explain that to him, either.
"The only thing I know is that the police raided her house, charged her with these offenses and took almost everything that wasn't nailed down," he said, adding that cops even took the birth certificate of her 2-year-old child.
Henninger said Velazquez is an immigrant from the Philippines, which means that the ramifications from this case could affect her status in this country and the future of her child.
"Her main concern at this point is her child. If she gets deported the child is either going to be without the mother, or the child would have to go to the Philippines," Henninger added. "Or worse she could even go to prison, at which point the child's without a mother."
Henninger said he is only representing Romela Velazquez in this case and believes Kimy is applying for the use of a public defender.
While he said Velazquez does not have receipts for all the items in question, Henninger said she does have receipts "for things she purchased with cash from other stores that have nothing to do with Lowe's."
Prosecutors said police recovered enough possibly stolen goods to fit an 18-foot trailer.
"It's not like she had a warehouse of things that were unopened," Henninger said. "They took their grill that they were using. They took other items that they were using, the contents of their household that they would use on a daily basis, those things were taken a lot of them. The house was basically cleaned out."
Though still early in the case, Henninger said some of the the blame may fall on the store rather than his client.
"I don't understand how if there's a problem with the website and they process your purchase, that's the fault of Lowe's. That's not the fault of the consumer," he said.
Romela Velazquez has been charged with second-degree computer criminal activity, second-degree theft by deception, and third-degree theft by deception. Her husband has been charged with third-degree receipt of stolen property and third-degree fencing. They have been released from custody.
Spokesman Al Della Fave of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office said the investigation is ongoing "in an effort to identify other victimized retailers, which may result in additional charges."
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com