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Indian Land woman accused of stealing $1.5M in items from Hobby Lobby stores

By Jonathan McFadden
jmcfadden@heraldonline.com

ROCK HILL An Indian Land woman who police say used an alias to steal from several North Carolina Hobby Lobby stores within the last two years —pilfering at least $1.5 million from the retail chain — was arrested Wednesday after taking merchandise from a Rock Hill Hobby Lobby.

Maria Steele, 58, who used the alias “Marie Vera,” is charged with shoplifting, according to a Rock Hill police report. She is held at the Rock Hill jail awaiting a bond hearing.

At about 3:30 p.m., a police officer met with the loss prevention manager at the Hobby Lobby store on Meeting Boulevard after he recognized “Marie Vera” from a shoplifter alert released by the retail chain’s headquarters, according to a Rock Hill police report.

The manager told police that Steele and others had shoplifted at several Hobby Lobby stores in North Carolina and were selling the stolen items at 75 percent below retail price, making at least $480,000 in profits, the report states.

Once recognizing Steele, who wore a bright green shirt and carried a big, black handbag, the manager followed her throughout the store, the report states. When she realized the manager was tailing her, police say Steele walked out of the store and towards Buffalo Wild Wings.

Several minutes later, she ran across the parking lot, jumped into a white Jeep and drove off, the report states. The manager received a phone call from an employee at Buffalo Wild Wings who told him they found a black bag filled with $475 worth of Hobby Lobby merchandise in a trash can in the women’s restroom.

A manager at the restaurant showed police and the loss prevention manager video of Steele walking into the women’s restroom before leaving after several minutes, the report states.

Police matched the photo of Steele distributed by Hobby Lobby with her DMV record and determined that she used the alias “Marie Vera” and lived in Fort Mill, the report states.

Police issued a warrant for Steele, and contacted the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, who served the warrant on Steele at her home, the report states.

Police contacted a Mooresville, N.C., police detective, who said they were unable to positively identify Steele as a woman they suspect of stealing from a “fairly new” Hobby Lobby in town, said Capt. Joe Cook with the Mooresville Police Department.

But on Thursday, Cook confirmed that “Marie Vera” is the same name of the woman accused of taking 31 paper cutting dyes worth $672 from the only Hobby Lobby store in the town back in April, alongside a man they suspect might be her husband.

On April 26, Hobby Lobby employees showed Mooresville Police video footage of Steele and a man entering the store at about 6:30 p.m. April 25 with an empty bag. The security video caught the two leaving the store with a bag that clearly wasn’t empty anymore, Cook said.

He added that the footage didn’t necessarily show Steele stashing the paper dye cutters in her bag, but “inferences” made from the video and missing merchandise indicate that she might be involved.

“The bag is not full when they walk in, but full when they walk out,” he said.

The detective working the case was off work on Thursday, but Cook, reading from a case narrative, said police believe Steele and her family might be involved with stealing from other North Carolina Hobby Lobby stores and living in South Carolina.

“We believe it’s probably tied to more than just the Mooresville store,” he said.

Check back later for more details.

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