An employee at an East Peoria restaurant stole more than $8,700 over three months using a ruse involving the business’s gift cards, charges allege.

Christopher Johnson, 36, of Pekin, faces probation to five years in prison if he’s convicted of the felony theft charge filed last Friday.

His alleged scheme was discovered in mid-February by an accounting employee with the Avanti’s chain outlet in East Peoria, who told police she became suspicious at the number of gift card purchases over recent months. She began internal audit that included a review of security camera footage, according to a prosecutor’s court affidavit.

It revealed that Johnson repeatedly accepted customers’ cash payments at the restaurant, then ran the purchases through gift cards while pocketing the cash, the affidavit stated. He had stolen about $8,713 through that practice since early November, the employee told police.

Confronted with those findings, Johnson told police he had discovered a flaw in the Peoria-area chain’s gift card system which allowed him to load amounts of less than $10 on a gift card without it being reflected on the cash register’s total, the affidavit stated.

Johnson said he loaded a number of gift cards to their maximum amount, then used a card to pay a bill when a customer paid it with cash, the affidavit stated.

Johnson, who has no prior criminal record in Tazewell County, was released with a notice to appear in court on Oct. 18.

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