A former employee of Homestead Gardens went on trial Wednesday, accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the high-end Davidsonville garden center over several years in a complicated scheme involving gift cards.
Virginia Lee Christian, 46, of Davidsonville, helped with the 2005 switch from paper to plastic gift cards and then used the new system to siphon off funds, Assistant State's Attorney Michel Cogan told an Anne Arundel County jury in his opening statement. Internal audits in 2007 showed discrepancies between amounts that an electronic payment company was recording in plastic gift card use and sums in the garden center's purchases, he said.
Christian, who has pleaded not guilty, was described as a cash reconciliation clerk for Homestead Gardens.
One of the largest independent garden centers in the country, Homestead is more than 30 years old, boasts the largest enclosed garden center in the Baltimore-Washington area, has a gourmet coffee lounge, runs workshops and festivals, and keeps llamas.
Audits showed that the garden center's records were altered more than 400 times in less than two years starting in July 2005, revealing a $64,000 gap, Cogan said. When confronted about changes she made in recording purchases, Christian told supervisors that she decreased the cash amounts because cash registers did not correctly record gift cards, he said.
But others at Homestead Gardens are expected to testify that no cashier reported a similar problem, Cogan said.
"A few months earlier ... the defendant's wages were garnisheed as a result of a civil judgment," he said.
State court records show her wages were tapped starting in early 2005 to pay a judgment of more than $10,000 from Target Visa.
But Assistant Public Defender Karl Gordon said his client, with a high-school education, lacked the savvy to pull off what he said would have been a complicated scam.
"The suggestion that she created a system for gift cards and employee training just doesn't make sense," he said.
The trial on 10 counts of operating a felony theft scheme is expected to last a week.