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Janesville man sentenced in Home Depot theft scheme

By Frank Schultz
August 26, 2015

JANESVILLE—The sentencing hearing in a retail theft conspiracy case in Rock County Court on Wednesday included an explanation of why a Janesville landlord was not charged for the same crime.

Tyler J. Groeller, 30, of 3704 Stuart Street, No. 8, Janesville, devised a scheme to avoid Home Depot security measures and shoplift thousands of dollars worth of items. He pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge as well as a heroin-trafficking charge and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Groeller was accused shoplifting small, high-value items and then returning the items for in-store credit.

Groeller recruited others—often poor or fellow heroin users--to return the items because Home Depot restricts the number of times a person can return items without a receipt, investigators believe.

Groeller paid his accomplices and sold the cards, sometimes for 50 cents on the dollar, to Janesville landlord Richard “Rick” Donahue, according to police.

Donahue was never charged.

Without naming Donahue, Assistant District Attorney Richard Sullivan said in court Wednesday that Groeller made conflicting statements--a statement that implicated Donahue, a statement that Donahue didn't know the cards were the result of shoplifting and a statement that Donahue didn't know but should have.

Groeller admitted his statement accusing Donahue was made while he was high on heroin, Sullivan said.

Groeller had damaged any testimony he might give against Donahue, Sullivan said.

Other evidence against Donahue was hearsay, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said only $10,000 in losses could be proved, but investigators suspected Home Depot lost upwards of $300,000.

Groeller targeted stores across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, he told police.

Groeller told police Donahue, who owns dozens of rental properties, many in the poorest parts of Janesville, remodeled entire buildings with the cards.

Sullivan stressed that Groeller stole to support his heroin habit. Groeller told Judge James Daley he had been using heroin since he was 13.

“Mr. Groeller is a very bright man … If he would only use that ability for good, I think society would benefit,” Sullivan said.

Defense attorney Lane Fitzgerald agreed Groeller is clever and suggested that once he gets out of prison, he could be hired as a security analyst, presumably to help stop retail theft.

Groeller victimized Home Depot, but he also “was used” by Donahue, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald, who used Donahue's last name, noted Groeller was facing more prison time on the charge of possession of heroin with intent to deliver than he was for the theft-conspiracy charge.

Daley's sentence was for eight years in prison on the heroin charge plus five years of extended supervision, which was greater than the six years in prison plus six years of supervision recommended by the defense and prosecution.

Daley sentenced Groeller to three years in prison and three years of supervision on the retail theft charge, but the sentences run concurrently.

Daley made Groeller eligible for a drug rehabilitation program in prison, which could make him eligible for release after he serves six years. Groeller has 263 days credit for time served in jail, so he could be released after about five years and three months, Fitzgerald said after the hearing.

Daley dismissed but read into the record charges of conspiracy to receive stolen property and possession with intent to deliver counterfeit narcotics.