Shoppers at the Rincon Walmart may find their purchases taken care of in the next couple of weeks.
The Rincon Police Department is embarking on a Secret Santa program — all thanks to the recovery of ill-gotten gains the department is trying to dispense back to the public.
“This is one of those opportunities where we would like to take the bad guy’s earnings and give it back to everybody in Effingham County, specifically in the city,” said Chief Phillip Scholl. “It’s going to be randomly selected. It could be anybody. They could be buying Christmas presents. We’re going to take that purchase from them. All we need from them is a receipt from there. Every card is accounted for.”
The Rincon Police has nearly $15,000 in gift cards that were confiscated. The requirements on forfeitures are stringent, according to Scholl.
“We must follow very strict and very specific purposes for use,” he said. “One of the purposes can be community outreach.”
The money came from financial crimes where the victim cannot be identified, Scholl said.
“There is no one to return the money to,” he said. “The business is not out any money. It was obtained fraudulently from all over the place. It was not just victims of Rincon. It could have been anywhere.”
The department, with city council’s blessing, will provide $1,000 in gift cards to several local agencies. Effingham County Victim Witness Assistance Program and the Court Appointed Special Advocates each will receive $1,000 in gift cards, and Scholl also said he wants to provide the same to the Treutlen House.
The crime occurred at Walmart, Scholl said, and the culprit was apprehended there.
“That’s where we were able to recover the gift cards,” he said. “We literally have stacks of cards.”
Rincon Police recovered between 150-200 gift cards and each card carries a value of about $100 or less. Most of them have $95, Scholl said. For the department to use those cards for its own purposes, each purchase would have to be made at Walmart.
“There’s only so much coffee, trash bags and plastic spoons we can buy,” Scholl quipped.
Walmart also has no way of converting the value of the cards back into cash, the chief noted.
“So we’re stuck with the cards,” he said.
The police have other cards they were able to convert into cash, and those cards are on top of the nearly $15,000 they have in Walmart gift cards. The Secret Service and the police department verified the cards and their value.
“The Secret Service had it and washed their hands of it,” Scholl said.
Under the rules of disbursing the cards, the department has to provide information to go with the cards, such as pamphlets on drug abuse prevention. Agencies such as CASA and Victim Witness, because of the nature of their mission, won’t have to distribute information with their gift cards, said City Attorney Raymond Dickey.
The cards can’t be given to police officers, city employees or their family members, Scholl said. The remaining cards will be used by the department to buy such things as computers.
“That’s going to be a trick thing,” Scholl acknowledged.
He added the cards also may be used to purchase concessions for either the Lost Plantation Golf Club or at Macomber Park.
Scholl said he wants the initiative to show a positive image for the city.
“We want to publicize it and show the city is giving back the bad guy’s money,” he said. “It’s going to be folks in our Walmart, making these purchases. I think this is an opportunity to take the bad guy’s money and use it and it doesn’t cost the city a dime. One hundred bucks is not a whole lot, but it might be a whole lot to somebody.”