TENS of thousands of pounds of goods were stolen from a family-run shop after an employee brazenly gave away groceries in an ‘illegal supermarket sweep’.
Stacey Lajoie worked behind the counter and let some customers come in and help themselves to food, drink and cigarettes without paying.
The Sood family were left bewildered when takings were significantly down at their popular shop, Falcon News in Lake Road, Portsmouth, which they have run since 1982. It left them on the brink of financial ruin.
But the scam came to light when they checked CCTV and it showed Lajoie bagging up groceries and not bothering to take payment.
Lajoie, 30, of Lake Road, who had worked for the family for 11 years, pleaded guilty to theft and is due to be sentenced on March 11.
Long-term customer and former employee Donna Stanley, 35, stood trial at Portsmouth Crown Court and a jury found her guilty of four counts of theft.
Meanwhile, five other people have pleaded guilty to theft and are due to be sentenced in March.
The trial heard that Lajoie was a ‘totally, totally trusted’ employee of the Soods.
Shopkeeper Linda Sood told the jury: ‘There were extreme financial problems being incurred in the shop which we could not pinpoint to anything. We thought maybe it was shoplifting, never thinking that Stacey was the culprit.’
The court heard the financial problems started in 2012 and Lajoie’s wrongdoing was discovered in March 2014.
The shop’s CCTV goes back six weeks, so all offences took place between January and March 2014.
The court heard that Lajoie ran the store every Sunday as the Soods wanted time as a family.
Barrister Barry McElduff, prosecuting, said Stanley, of Copnor Road, would arrive ‘like clockwork’ at about 7.30am while the shop was quiet.
He said: ‘She would engage in what was tantamount to a sort of illegal supermarket sweep – filling bags and leaving without payment, being given cigarettes by staff without payment.’
He said the thefts were ‘brazen’ adding that Stanley took items dishonestly ‘with no intention of paying for them’.
He said it was ‘highly likely’ that offending was taking place before January 2014.
PC Wayne Tommans-Porter, from Kingston Crescent police station in Portsmouth, went through the CCTV footage taken from seven cameras in the shop.
The clips showed Stanley browsing around the store and choosing items such as bin bags, tins and drinks.
Lajoie was seen picking multi-packs of cigarettes from behind the counter and bagging them up for Stanley.
On two occasions, Stanley left the shop and came back shortly later to get a Dorito’s crisps multi-pack.
Kriston Berlevy, defending Stanley, said documented debit card transactions showed she did make payment on several occasions to Falcon News.
But the jury was shown evidence that the transactions did not match the dates when she was caught on CCTV at the shop.
After the trial Mrs Sood told The News she was relieved.
She said: ‘I am absolutely ecstatic that justice has been done.
‘It’s been a nightmare. We could have lost everything.
‘It was having an impact on life at home – money was just not there.
‘We had to remortgage what we had.’
Her son Harmeet Sood, who also runs the business, said: ‘It’s sad, given that my parents built the business up.
‘You don’t want to shut the doors on a business you have built up.’
The offences occurred at Falcon News’ old premises in Lake Road.
It has since moved to the unit next door.