In what sounds like a case of the fox watching the hen house, a member of Ace Hardware's loss prevention team is accused of stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from Ace's distribution warehouse in La Crosse.

Jeffrey P. Lepsch, 30, of rural Dakota, Minn., was arrested Thursday after other members of the retailer's loss prevention team watched him take merchandise after the warehouse at 500 Fanta Reed Road closed for the night, according to a criminal complaint.

Prosecutors contend that Lepsch, who faces six years in prison if convicted of felony theft, has admitted to taking merchandise but denies he is responsible for the $100,000 in merchandise store officials contend has been stolen in the past three years.

Lepsch said he has taken about $8,000 worth of merchandise and sold it over the Internet or gave it away.

According to the criminal complaint, after the warehouse closed, Lepsch would turn off the surveillance cameras, back his truck up to a loading dock and help himself to several items.

When corporate loss prevention experts could not find which employee was stealing, they staked out the warehouse and saw Lepsch leave with a truck full.

They then followed Lepsch to his Minnesota home, where they confronted him.

Lepsch admitted to police that he stole a variety of tools, cases of thermometers, a case of fluorescent lights, electronic equipment, propane cans, a telescope, water heater and other items.

Lepsch is free on a signature bond and is due back in court at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Dan Springer can be reached at (608) 791-8269 or at dspringer@lacrossetribune.com.

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