Two charged for thefts; one faces drug possession

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Felony charges have been filed against two former employees of the Carquest Auto Parts store in Ronan in connection with alleged thefts from the business.

An affidavit filed with the Lake County Attorney’s Office on March 21 indicates that 39-year-old Tracy Matthew VanNess of rural Ronan was arrested and charged with one count of felony theft, and one felony count of criminal possession of dangerous drugs.

On that date, another adult, Melissa Ann Miller was charged with one felony count of theft.

According to the court affidavit, on Feb. 21, 2019, Ronan Police Officers Corey White, Brandon Smith and Nick Adams were dispatched to Carquest in Ronan. Upon arrival, they were informed that Carquest had discovered alleged embezzlement by two employees, VanNess and Miller. The document stated that from September 2016 to Feb. 21, 2019, VanNess had taken cash out of the till for his own use without permission from the Carquest owner.

During that same period, VanNess had allegedly falsely credited returns of items and taken the proceeds as his own.

Carquest was sold to new owners in September 2018. The accounting determines that VanNess had embezzled a total of $53,611.27 from the owner prior to September 2018. That total included $28,900 in cash, and $6,598.94 using credit cards from the new owners after September 2018.

During the period, Miller worked at the business. Between October 20, 2018, and Jan. 30, 2019, the manager of Carquest showed that Miller embezzled $1,668.52 from the business by crediting returns of items that had been sold to her credit card. The items had not been returned.

When interviewed, VanNess admitted he had embezzled from Carquest between September 2016 and Feb. 21, 2019 as alleged by the accounting, according to the affidavit. The defendant did not keep any records so he did not know the total amount.

When interviewed Miller, after first denying it, admitted she had credited false returns to her debit card, the document stated. Miller admitted she knew VanNess was taking money out of the till while she worked at Carquest and did not report him. Miller claimed that when she credited the false returns to her debit card, she would get the money from an ATM and give the cash to VanNess.

Miller admitted that on at least one occasion she used the money to pay her own bills.

On two occasions during 2018 and 2019, employees of Carquest noticed a mirror with white powdery substance in the business. When VanNess was arrested on Feb. 21, 2019, three hydrocodone pills were found in his pocket, the document said. VanNess said he did not have a prescription for the pills and had taken them from his wife without her knowledge. He admitted he used pain medication for recreational purposes. Hydrocodone is a schedule II dangerous drug under MCA 50-32-224(1)(a)(xi).

If found guilty, both VanNess and Miller face a the penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine, or both for felony theft. The penalty for criminal possession of dangerous drugs is five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

An omnibus hearing for VanNess is set for May 2 in front of District Judge Deborah “Kim” Christopher. A jury trial was set for Monday, Aug. 12.

A pre-trial hearing for Miller in front of Judge Christopher is scheduled for Thursday, April 18, according to court records.

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