PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) – Meijer employees placed tampered-with vitamin bottles back on the shelves after they were returned to the stores by the suspect, not knowing some were filled with everything from candy to prescription heart medication, according to police investigating the case.
Portage Police Lt. Brian Vanden Brink said he was surprised to learn that at least some of the bottles had been re-shelved after they were returned.
“There are some that we know that Meijer employees put back on the shelf,” Vanden Brink said. “We don’t know for sure if the suspect put any back on the shelf himself, or if it was all done with returns to the Meijer counters and they put them back on the shelf.”
Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi told 24 Hour News 8 that returning any ingestible item to the shelves would violate store policy.
He refused to confirm or deny whether employees had restocked the bottles, referring questions to the FBI.
The FBI agent investigating the case said he couldn’t comment.
Police said they’ve identified a suspect, a 34-year-old man, in the tampering case. He is enrolled in an out-of-state college, Vanden Brink said. FBI and FDA agents were expected to interview him on Friday.
Police were trying to determine whether he was trying to hurt someone. There have been no reported injuries.
“That’s absolutely part of the investigation,” Vanden Brink said. “We don’t have any indication either way what his intention was at this time.”
The tampering case involves six Meijer stores in four cities — Portage, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Plainwell, police said.
The investigation began after a customer returned a vitamin bottle that had been filled with walnuts. Meijer launched its own investigation and then worked with police.
Police said the man bought the supplements, usually Mega Red Ultra Strength Omega-3 Krill Oil, then replaced the vitamins with other items, including chocolate chips, candy, cat food and drugs.
That included Sotatol, a prescription drug for irregular heartbeat, and Coumadin, a blood thinner.
The suspect then returned the bottles inside their boxes.
“The boxes would be sealed again so a Meijer employee wouldn’t think anything different of it,” Vanden Brink said. “It would look normal to them when they returned them so they would put them back in the circulation of the stock.”
In at least some cases, he re-glued the inner seal on the bottle with glue, police said.
“You could see a little bit of white on the edges of the bottle where it looked like glue had dried, so he would try to seal everything up so it looked like a new bottle.”
But, it appears he didn’t replace the plastic around the outside of the bottle.
Police said Meijer has cooperated with investigators and helped identify a suspect through surveillance video and credit card receipts.
It’s not clear how long the suspect had been tampering with bottles. Police say a customer returned a vitamin supplement bottle to an area Meijer store in May or June after finding dead bugs inside, but it appears most of the tampering started this month.
The penalty for tampering with consumer products is up to 10 years in federal prison and up to life in prison if it leads to a death.
A Meijer spokesperson told 24 Hour News 8 Friday the company had pulled all of the product that was targeted by the suspect from West Michigan Meijer store shelves.