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Thursday, May 15, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Man Pleads Guilty In Ex-LAX Case -- $98,002 Refund Was Given By Mistake

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

A South King County man who vanished more than three years ago after a laxative manufacturer mistakenly sent him a $98,002 refund check for a $1.99 box of Ex-Lax has pleaded guilty to first-degree theft.

Barry Lyn Stoller, 40, could receive up to 90 days in jail when he is sentenced next month by King County Superior Court Judge Bobbe Bridge. But because he has already served two months in jail, Stoller could have as much as two-thirds of the sentence reduced for time served.

"I'd like to point out that he pleaded guilty as charged . . . ," said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office. "So in our view he is being held accountable for the charge against him."

Donohoe added that prosecutors plan to recommend Stoller receive the maximum 90-day sentence. Stoller entered the plea on Friday.

Stoller was arrested in March at a Panther Lake grocery store after a security guard allegedly caught him trying to steal two packs of cigarettes. Stoller's name was punched into a police computer and the 3-year-old warrant for the theft appeared.

On Sept 6, 1993, Stoller, who earned $15 an hour as a drywaller, wrote a letter to New Jersey-based Sandoz Pharmaceuticals asking the laxative maker to reimburse him for $1.99 he spent on a package of Ex-Lax. In the letter, he complained that he took the pills just before going to bed, but the laxative had no effect during the next 24 hours.

The company responded by sending Stoller a refund. But the company's new computer system mistakenly made out the check based on Stoller's ZIP code - 98002 - not the price of the Ex-Lax.

Prosecutors alleged Stoller deposited the check in his savings account, returned several days later, withdrew the money along with his other savings - amounting to a total of about $114,000 - and disappeared.

Sandoz hired a private investigator who could not locate Stoller. Eventually, the investigator sought help from Kent police.

Stoller was later identified by a bank officer as the person who cashed the $98,002 check.

A national search for Stoller, who had no previous criminal record, ensued.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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