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‘Retail theft on a large scale’: Father-daughter duo sentenced in multimillion-dollar shoplifting scheme

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An Atlanta father and daughter duo were sentenced to more than five years in prison for using an army of professional shoplifters to steal millions of dollars in goods from retailers like CVS and Target and then sell the goods online.

Robert Whitley, 70, and daughter Noni Whitley, 47, were accused of running the program and organizing the theft of $ 6.1 million in goods for nearly a decade before they were arrested in 2019, prosecutors said.

The couple pleaded guilty to the interstate transport of stolen property in April. The then prosecutor described the Whitley’s operation as a “well-organized criminal enterprise disguised as a seemingly legitimate small business.”

“This is retail theft on a grand scale,” said Kurt Erskine, acting US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

Robert Whitley was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison and Noni Whitely to five years in prison. They were also fined $ 4.35 million in compensation.

“Robert and Noni Whitley ran a well-organized criminal enterprise disguised as a seemingly legitimate small business.”

– Kurt Erskine, acting US attorney

Messages left with the Whitley’s attorneys were not returned immediately.

Prosecutors say Robert Whitley – who also passed Mr. Bob – and his daughter would give shoplifters lists of items they were looking for, such as razor blades, toothpaste, cosmetics, and over-the-counter medicines like Prilosec, Rogaine, and Claritin.

The shoplifters would steal the products of major retail chains, including CVS CVS, + 1.15%,
Walgreens WBA, -2.86%,
Target TGT, + 0.44%,
Kroger KR, -0.54%, and Publix, and return to a warehouse in Atlanta run by the Whitleys with trash bags full of loaded items, who according to court records would pay them in cash. Representatives from CVS, Walgreens, Target, Kroger, and Publix did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Do not miss: Walgreens closes five locations in San Francisco over organized retail crime

The Whitleys would then remove all price tags and anti-theft devices from the stolen goods and sell them at heavily discounted prices through third-party e-commerce platforms including Amazon AMZN, + 0.63% Marketplace, Walmart WMT, + 0.24% Marketplace, and Sears SHLDQ, -42.00% Marketplace, as well as on their own websites, Closeout Express and Essentials Daily Discount.

An e-commerce bonanza

From 2011 to 2018, prosecutors said the Whitleys sold 140,000 items through their Amazon Marketplace account, raising $ 3.4 million. On the Walmart Marketplace, the pair had 29,000 sales for $ 750,000 between 2017 and 2019. And on Sears Marketplace, they made 1,800 sales for around $ 50,000.

Messages left with representatives from Amazon, Walmart, and Sears were not returned immediately.

When investigators shut down the Whitleys’ business in late 2019, they found more than $ 1 million worth of stolen goods in their warehouse.

In court records, Robert Whitley’s attorney said his client was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who had a long history of heroin addiction. He sobered up in 1984 and spent years counseling others to help them find sobriety, the lawyer said. While Whitley didn’t deny the stolen property trafficking, his primary goal was to help other people with heroin addiction, a problem many of the shoplifters he dealt with, his attorney said.

Noni Whitley’s attorney argued in the court records that his client had a difficult upbringing due to her parents’ drug addiction, but had maintained “blind allegiance to her father,” which led her to collaborate with him in the criminal enterprise.

Investigators say the thefts not only hit large businesses, but hurt small businesses who lost customers who instead unwittingly bought cheap, stolen goods online from the Whitleys.

“The Whitleys are now paying the price for causing financial harm to legitimate small businesses and consumers who have suffered losses from those businesses,” said Chris Hacker, special envoy for the FBI’s Atlanta branch.

See also: Target cuts opening hours in San Francisco due to “alarming increase” in shoplifting

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