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(September 18th update: No charges will be filed against the hungry deli employee, after Giant Eagle backed off and declined to pursue the case. “At Giant Eagle, having respect for others is of the utmost importance,” the retailer said in a statement. “While it is necessary that we take all potential incidents of theft seriously, after careful review of the circumstances surrounding the incident in our Bolivar, Ohio supermarket, we are recommending to local authorities that formal charges not be pursued.”)

Is nibbling on deli meat a felony offense? It might be, in a small Ohio community where a hungry grocery employee has become the talk of the town – and of the internet.

Authorities in Tuscarawas County, Ohio are considering whether to file charges against a Giant Eagle employee in Bolivar, after her bosses called the cops when they discovered she had been snacking on cold cuts from the deli counter.

Several times a day.

For about eight years.

The local newspaper, the Canton Repository, first reported on the case on Friday, and its story quickly went viral. The unnamed woman reportedly admitted to eating three to five slices of ham nearly every day over the past eight years.

“She occasionally ate salami,” the article deadpanned.

The store estimated its total loss to be about $9,200, well over the $1,000 threshold that represents the difference between petty theft and a felony crime.

So the woman was charged with felony theft, the paper initially reported, prompting a fierce debate among readers. “This brings absurd to a new level. Seriously, felony meat snacking?” one Facebook commenter wrote. Another disagreed: “I guess THEFT is ok now? Try stealing from your work and see what happens!”

Oh, but that part about being charged with felony theft? Not so fast…

The story was “not exactly accurate,” Tuscarawas County Sheriff Orvis Campbell clarified the next morning. “While our office did take a report of the issue as requested by the store, no determination of charges has been made. The procedure is to send the report to the Prosecutor’s Office and they are the ones to decide… We did NOT make an arrest and there have been no formal filing of charges.”

So someone at the paper erroneously jumped the gun. But by then, the story had already spread and not everyone saw the correction.

Either way, there was still plenty of outrage to go around. How did the store not know about this for eight long years? Why didn’t it discipline the employee instead of calling the police? And where did it come up with that $9,200 figure? (If you estimate the employee worked about 250 days a year for eight years and ate an average of four slices of ham or salami a day, that would mean each slice was worth $1.15. That’s some pricey lunch meat.)

Giant Eagle shoppers are going to the store’s Facebook page to complain that the case was even brought to police at all, regardless of whether it ultimately results in a felony theft charge. “This is absurd and spiteful. I will no longer shop at Giant Eagle stores,” one commenter wrote. “Apparently you’re charging too much for your ham and salami and you’re not paying your employees enough that they have to grab a bite to eat on their shift,” another added. “After 8 years they are finally catching this? Something stinks in the whole mix,” wrote a third.

Still, there are a few who are taking Giant Eagle’s side. “Stealing is wrong. Period. And when you steal from an employer it’s even worse,” one commenter wrote. “When you steal, you must be ready to accept whatever consequences are leveled at you,” another remarked.

It may seem like much ado over nothing, but this isn’t the first time snacking on deli meat has led to a legal dispute. Back in 2013, a Minnesota man sued Cub Foods after security guards allegedly roughed him up, for taking too many free samples from a deli platter. A store spokesman said the man had actually filled two produce bags with 1.4 pounds of meat – and this wasn’t the first time he had done it – so his snacking had crossed the line from sampling to theft.

That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed. And the Tuscarawas County Sheriff predicts the Giant Eagle case will blow over, too.

“While my office does not have the authority to make the final decision in this case, I do feel confident that once all of the facts are relayed to the prosecutor, felony charges are unlikely,” Campbell said.

It’s a good thing, because a felony theft conviction comes with a maximum penalty of six to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. If people are complaining now that Giant Eagle is being heavy-handed in reporting this case, imagine what the reaction would be if the employee gets thrown in the slammer.

But it wouldn’t be all bad for the hungry employee. After all, at least the cold cuts in prison are free.

Image source: Dietz & Watson

One Comment

  1. Honest Couponer says:

    She would have been fine had she just stuck with the ham! It was the salami that did her in!!! Is it lunch time yet!?

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