An 89 cent refill became a $525 federal charge when a construction worker at a VA medical center was issued a ticket by the Federal Police Force for not paying the 89 cents for the refill of his soda. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the medical center said that not paying for a refill was “theft of government property,” reported WISTV on April 16.
After Wednesday’s incident of the construction worker being charged $525 for not paying for his 89 cent refill, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in downtown Charleston in South Carolina released a statement on Thursday saying that the citation has been changed into a warning, writes the Associated Press in an updated report.
“Officials with the VA Medical Center in downtown Charleston say a North Charleston man who was initially federally charged with a $525 fine for an $.89 drink refill will instead be given a warning.” However, Christopher Lewis, the on-site construction worker, has lost his job.
During his lunch hour on Wednesday, Lewis went to the VA Medical Center’s cafeteria and after having had his first cup of soda, he went back to get a refill. Even though a hospital spokesperson commented that there were signs posted in the cafeteria that refills cost 89 cents, Lewis said that he had never seen the signs and that he had gotten refills before without paying.
This time, however, when Lewis went for the refill, he was stopped by the chief of police, who was a Federal Police Officer. "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."
After being “grabbed” by the arm, Lewis told the chief of police that he would certainly pay for the $0.89, but he wasn't allowed to do so. Instead, he was taken into a room, given a $525 ticket for shoplifting, and asked never to return to the medical center property.
"I'm done there, at the VA hospital. 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 got to the cafeteria and he said he wanted me off the premises." Not being able to return to his place of work put Lewis out of a job.
In its statement on Wednesday, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center wrote that the center was “ 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. … Shoplifting is a crime. The dollar amount of the ticket is not determined by VA as it is a Federal citation.” The statement also said that Lewis could either pay the ticket or contest it in Federal court.
After having received the fine of $525 for his 89-cent refill on Wednesday, Lewis and his fiancé did contact the Internal Affairs Office in Columbia in order to contest the fine in federal court. "It's about pretty much I guess you would say getting your face back. I want everybody to know that I made a simple mistake, that I'm not a thief, that I'm not dishonest. I'm trying to do the right thing."