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Loss-prevention officer loses his freedom
Spotsylvania judge gets tough in sentencing ex-Walmart employee for repeated thefts from Southpoint store

Date published: 1/10/2013

BY KEITH EPPS

A man who stole more than $10,000 worth of merchandise from a store he was hired to protect from thieves was ordered Tuesday to serve two years in prison.

Phillip L. Leonhart Jr., 28, was sentenced in Spotsylvania County Circuit Court to a total of eight years with six years suspended. He had previously pleaded guilty to grand larceny and wearing a mask in public.

The multiple thefts occurred at the Walmart on Southpoint Parkway in Spotsylvania, where Leonhart worked as a loss-prevention officer. The evidence showed that Leonhart on at least 10 occasions disguised himself in a rubber mask and sunglasses and took various electronics out of the store's garden-center entrance without paying for them.

Judge David Beck ordered prison time during Tuesday's hearing even though the state sentencing guidelines called for only probation.

Defense attorney Bruce Strickland urged Beck to stick to the guidelines, pointing out that Leonhart had no prior record and was struggling to support three children and two women.

But Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Neely argued that Leonhart's "extreme breach of trust" in stealing multiple times from his employer and using known security weaknesses to assist himself merited prison time.

Neely said his office had to drop at least a dozen shoplifting cases brought by Leonhart as the result of his own crimes.

According to the evidence, Leonhart was arrested on April 16 after another loss-prevention officer, Jeff Heyl, saw him put $1,069 worth of electronic items into a blue storage container. Leonhart rolled the container in a shopping cart out of the store.

A deputy stopped Leonhart outside the store, recovered the stolen items and took him into custody.

Store officials later reviewed surveillance tapes between March 17 and April 15 and found nine other instances of Leonhart entering the store wearing the same disguise. Court records indicate that he stole $9,329 worth of items using the same tactics employed when he was caught.

During that same timeframe, court records state, Leonhart sold a number of items on eBay, including 10 new laptop computers.

Leonhart is one of two former loss-prevention officers at the same store recently convicted of felonies for crimes committed while they were employed.

Joshua D. Rodriguez, 23, has been convicted of attempted robbery and will be facing a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 27.

As part of a plea agreement, Rodriguez had the choice of accepting a three-year prison term or letting Beck decide his punishment. He chose the latter.

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404
Email: kepps@freelancestar.com