Crime never pays. Unless you get away with it. Ermenildo “Ernie” Castro seemingly did not. The former software engineer at Zulily is accused of stealing over $300,000 from the online retailer through a scheme straight out of the 1999 slacker revenge movie Office Space. He now claims the money’s all gone, telling police he lost most of it betting on GameStop meme stock options.
Documents filed by prosecutors in Kings County Superior Court last month detail an audacious scheme by a white collar worker to rip off his bosses, a scheme whose execution left more than a little to be desired. Charged with two counts of felony theft and one count of felony identity theft, Castro allegedly manipulated the code on Zulily’s checkout page to siphon off at least $261,885 in shipping fees into his personal Stripe banking account.
He then allegedly proceeded to change the prices on products, paying pennies on the dollar for them and having them shipped directly to his home where they piled up in front of his door. Prosecutors claim he stole $40,842 this way for a total theft amount of $302,278.52. When interviewed by police after his arrest, Castro admitted the figure could have been even higher, but said the money was all gone.
“He clarified that he had used the money to invest in stock options, particularly GameStop stock options,” the court documents read. It’s unclear which exact options he bet on that left him zeroed out by the meme stock.
According to prosecutors, Castro began skimming off the top of Zulily’s transactions in February 2022. The company became aware of the discrepancies the following month and ordered Castro and others to investigate. That’s when he allegedly updated the code to double charge customers. The company had also started to flag the unusual purchases shipping to Castro’s home. In June a fellow employee visited to investigate and found “several Zulily labeled boxes piled outside of the home’s front door and driveway.”
Castro told Zulily and police that the purchases were just test orders that he just forgot to cancel. However, email records allegedly show Castro ordering stuff specifically for a woman he met on Tinder. She would send him links to stuff she wanted, and he would respond back with a heart emoji to show it had been purchased. When asked about this by police, “Castro was unable to provide an immediate answer, and ultimately said he placed the orders for her in order to ‘peacock.’”
Castro returned his work laptop on June 9 when he was fired, which also didn’t do him any favors. When Zulily searched it, the company reportedly discovered a OneApp file named “OfficeSpace Project.” Prosecutors say it went through his scheme in detail, including adjustments he made to try and keep it hidden from management. Asked by police, Castro even admitted that Office Space, a movie about workers self-actualizing by stealing small amounts of money from millions of company transactions, was what the scheme in the file was named after. It’s unclear who Castro’s attorney was or if he ever called one.
Possibly cementing the case for police was what they reportedly discovered when they searched Castro’s home. After executing a warrant on July 21, they claimed to have located an “exorbitant number” of Zulily orders, many still in their original packaging. Among them was a “Gray Linen Convertible Sofa Bed” priced at $565.99 that Castro allegedly only paid $1 for. Maybe he should have tried to sell it to GameStop.
Castro’s arraignment is scheduled for later this month. At $16 a share, GameStop’s stock is currently lower than at any time since the Office Space plan allegedly started to unfold. But it is possible the funds are still out there somewhere. Prosecutors believe Castro may have made preparations prior to his arrest. In one part of the “OfficeSpace Project” document he reportedly wrote, “Pre-pare off-grid backup plan.”