Report: Melbourne councilwoman tried to return old TV for refund

Incident allegedly involves Eley of W. Melbourne council

MELBOURNE, Fla. - A fly-on-the-wall surveillance camera catches what appears to be a normal transaction at the Target return counter, according to Local 6 news partner Florida Today.

But the transaction turned out to be anything but typical.

What the slightly pixelated footage does not explain: The customer is West Melbourne City Councilwoman Stephany Eley allegedly returning a broken two-year-old television tucked in a new box and — at least temporarily — pocketing the refund.

The video catches the sketchy return that should have gone unnoticed.

Unnoticed, but for West Melbourne police who showed up at the store for an unrelated investigation and asked the store security manager about a television box in his office.

A police incident report says a customer tried to return an old 46-inch Vizio television in the wrong box to the Target store in Melbourne Village on Sept. 2. The customer was turned away.

So she went to the Target at Hammock Landing in West Melbourne, where her return was accepted.The transaction took a total of three minutes.

The store's security manager, Patrick George, voided the transaction later that day after discovering it was the wrong television in the box.

Target chose not to pursue criminal charges.

Case seemingly closed.

But two weeks later on Sept. 17, West Melbourne police officers went to the store on an unrelated case. While speaking with the loss prevention officer, they asked about a TV box in his office, police officials said. The employee told officers it was a disputed return involving a West Melbourne city councilwoman.

"Once the officer became aware it involved a city council person, they notified their supervisor," said Police Chief Richard Wiley, who confirmed that Eley was the customer. He was notified and sent Deputy Chief Dan Swartzfager and Capt. Charles Finstead to the store. Wiley said he dispatched members of his command staff — administrators who see little time on the road — because the incident involved an elected official.

The incident is documented in a single-page report that is based on a police interview with the store's loss prevention officer, Patrick George. Eley did not return multiple requests for comment made by FLORIDA TODAY over the course of two days.

"The customer advised that someone from advised her to put the old, broken television in the box and bring it into the store," the report says.

The police chief said a disputed return normally would not warrant a police response. In the interest of transparency, and so as not to appear to be sweeping anything under the rug, he directed staff to write the report, which does not include Eley's name.

Wiley said that was because "it wouldn't be fair" to include her name in a report that, had it been a typical shopper whose return was handled by the store, would not have been created.

"We probably would not even have done a report on this if it didn't involve a city councilwoman," Wiley said.

Eley has served on the city council since 2007. One year ago, Eley — then deputy mayor — made the motion to choose Wiley for the chief job and earlier this year voted with the rest of the council to give Wiley a 2.9 percent raise.

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