Cincinnati man sentenced in extensive scheme to defraud retail stores

A Cincinnati man who led a conspiracy that defrauded retail stores in 15 states, including Kentucky, of hundreds of thousands of dollars was sentenced to more than 16 years in prison Friday.

John Elliott, 30, also was ordered to pay restitution of $218,816, the full amount lost by the stores.

According to court documents, Elliott helped direct a conspiracy in which he and nine others used fraudulent checks to buy merchandise at Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Target and Meijer stores in Kentucky and 15 other states. They conducted the scheme in Campbell, Boone, Fayette and Jefferson counties, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

From February 2008 through December, Elliott and the others passed checks that were backed by insufficient funds, the release said. They persuaded store clerks to process the checks as traveler's checks to avoid normal security procedures.

Sometimes they returned items for cash at branch stores other than the ones where they made the original purchases, and some of the checks were stolen, according to court documents.

All of the co-conspirators have pleaded guilty, the release said, and seven have received sentences ranging from seven to 78 months. One person has not been sentenced yet; and another entered a diversion program, which will wipe the crime from her record in exchange for community service.

Elliot was given a much longer sentence — 200 months — because of his role as a leader in the group and because of a lengthy criminal history, including previous convictions for assault, forgery, burglary and drug possession, among others, the release said.