S.C. man gets federal 'theft of government property' charge after not paying soda refill

Construction worker Christopher Lewis filled up soda at VA Medical Center in Charleston without paying.
By Evan Bleier  |  April 17, 2014 at 12:40 PM
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CHARLESTON, S.C., April 17 (UPI) -- A South Carolina construction worker who didn’t pay 89 cents to refill his soda is now out $525 and a job.

After Christopher Lewis refilled his soda at the VA Medical Center in Charleston without paying, he was hit with federal theft charges.

"As I was filling my cup up, I turned to walk off and a fella grabbed me by the arm and asked me was I going to pay for that, and I told him I wasn't aware that I had to pay for that,” Lewis told WIS TV. "I never had an option to make right what I had done wrong."

Refilling the soda without paying for it, which a hospital spokesperson called a "theft of government property,” resulted in Lewis being given a $525 ticket for shoplifting. He was also told not to come back to the property.

"I'm done there, at the VA hospital,” Lewis said. “I'm not allowed to go on the premises anymore. I asked him can I still work on the job site and just bring my lunch and not go to the cafeteria and he said he wanted me off the premises."

The medical center released the following statement:

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center is fortunate to have a highly trained Federal police force to ensure the safety of our patients, visitors and employees. As Federal police they are responsible for enforcing the law. Today a Federal citation was issued for shoplifting in the VA cafeteria to an individual who stated to VA police he had not paid for refills of beverages on multiple occasions, even though signs are posted in the cafeteria informing patrons refills are not free. Shoplifting is a crime. The dollar amount of the ticket is not determined by VA as it is a Federal citation. The citation may be paid or the recipient may choose to appear in Federal court to contest it.

Lewis plans to fight the fine in federal court.

"Every time I look at the ticket, it's unbelievable to me,” Lewis said. “I can't fathom the fact that I made a $0.89 mistake that cost me $525."


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