Bosses and Boosters Busted

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

This ordinary-appearing video commercial promotes a family business based in Atlanta that hides a dark secret. 

There’s a business term Cost of Goods Sold. In today’s true crime case, it’s redefined as Cost of Goods Stolen.

Richard (“Mr. Bob”) Whitley, 70, and his daughter Noni Whitley,47, ran Closeout Express and Essential Daily Deals which were online storefronts selling products below wholesale.

How could they charge prices that were too good to be true?

The merchandise was stolen. Their inventory was supplied by professional shoplifters known as “boosters.”

Between 2011 and 2019, the Whitleys operated an Organized Retail Crime (ORC) organization, selling more than $6,000,000 in stolen merchandise.

ORC is essentially the 21st century version of old-fashioned fencing. 

According to the FBI:

An ORC operation refers to a professional shoplifting, cargo theft, or retail crime ring, or other organized crime occurring in a retail environment. Robert Whitley was the owner and operator of Closeout Express. Noni Whitley worked with her father and helped operate and manage their ORC operation.

The Whitleys hired boosters who preyed on small businesses as well as national drug store and supermarket chains including CVS, Kroger, Publix, Target, and Walgreen’s. They shoplifted over-the-counter medications, shaving razors, oral care products, and health and beauty aids.

Boosters then delivered large garbage bags full of stolen merchandise to the Closeout Express warehouse where the Whitleys paid them in cash.

The Whitleys’ online storefronts operated as third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace, Walmart Marketplace, and Sears Marketplace. They processed tens of thousands of orders and delivered the stolen products via the U.S. Postal Service.

After nearly a decade in operation, the Whitley family business was shut down by the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. A joint task force recovered more than a million dollars in stolen goods at the warehouse and several Atlanta residences.

On October 5, 2021, Robert Whitley and Noni Whitley were sentenced to federal prison under the following terms:

Robert Whitley a/k/a Mr. Bob, 70, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced to five years, ten months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. He previously pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property.

Noni Whitley, 47, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. She previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property.

Both defendants were also ordered to pay $4,348,762.90 in restitution to the victim retailers.

Shopping online is easy, fast, and convenient but e-commerce can also hide an underbelly of sneaky fraud.

When prices are too good to be true, you might be buying stolen property. 

How can you tell if products are stolen? 

Here are warning signs

What happens if you unwittingly purchase stolen property? According to Findlaw.com:

Although you will likely not be charged with a crime, if you unknowingly bought stolen goods, you will probably have to return them to the rightful owner. The thief (or thieves) will then owe you the purchase price in restitution.

Good luck collecting restitution from criminals in federal prison. 

 

This entry was posted in #truecrimethursday, Writing by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the Zebulon Award. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, Dead Man's Bluff, Crowded Hearts, Flight to Forever, and Until Proven Guilty. Debbie's articles have won journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

25 thoughts on “Bosses and Boosters Busted

  1. Thanks, Debbie. This activity is particularly prevalent in municipal jurisdictions where local prosecutors have decriminalized shoplifting. My local metro area is having that problem.

    Pawnshops — at least locally — have historically been tasked with making at least a good faith effort to ensure that the merchandise they deal in hasn’t been stolen. True story: a local pawnbroker found himself dealing with a couple of gentlemen attempting to pawn a trumpet. The instrument and the case were engraved with the legend “Property of xxxxx xxxxx High School.” The pair insisted that it was in fact their trumpet. The pawnbroker shrugged and said, “So play me something.” They left with the trumpet.

    • Great story, Joe.

      You Tube is full of videos that show thieves stuffing goods into backpacks and garbage bags while store employees and security guards watch helplessly. They can’t do anything b/c shoplifting has been decriminalized.

      We all pay for crime with higher prices.

  2. Good post, Debbie, especially in this time of inflation and everyone looking for ways to save money. Coming from a “sheltered” rural area with low crime, I was amazed that anyone would be so brazen as to offer their goods online. If it’s too good to be true, its probably…

    Thanks for the warning. You come up with some good ones. Does your research ever yield material or ideas for your books? Oh, by the way, I have several big boxes of toilet paper that just showed up on my back steps. I’m offering them for a great price today. We accept cash or cryptocurrency.

  3. A father raises a daughter to have a good head for numbers, they go into business together and make a profit … and they’re sent to prison? Is there no respect for close-knit families?

  4. Great post, Debbie. Definitely material for a future novel if you so choose.

    Your piece led me to do a little internet research. Apparently starting a few years ago shoplifters are using “booster bags,” essentially a portable Faraday cage that shields a tagged item from store/library etc security system. Imagine if that ingenuity were put to a good, lawful use.

  5. Ebay and Amazon third party retailers have been fences for years. Neither does much if anything to fight it. Amazon is especially bad.

  6. Thanks for keeping us informed, Deb. What a business — I’d love to read their mission statement.

    Since shoplifting has been decriminalized, how much longer will it be until selling stolen goods is no longer a crime? The slippery slope is turning into a landslide!

    I took a look at the list of warning signs to tell if you’re buying stolen goods. Here’s one that caught my attention:
    “If it’s a computer, tablet or smartphone, the description says the item is password locked. The seller may claim they forgot the password.”
    Yeah, that would be a pretty big red flag.

    Thanks again. I’m off to Kroger to see if there’s anything left on the shelves.

  7. Wow! How would they have thought they’d have a continuous business model? Eventually, you’d get caught, something has to give. There’s no honor among thieves unless somehow you get on the crew of Ocean’s 11.

    Sad to say that this has been an issue north of the border as well. Seen some special reporting on the subject where high school kids do smash and grab robberies in the malls.

  8. Thanks for yet another “feel good story” about the ATL… ?

    When I (was), moved here from Miami a long time ago, Dad had a friend who’d married “distantly into the ‘mob'” who lived up here. The wife used to acknowledge mysterious cases and even pallets of auto parts or similar items arriving overnight in their carport, and then disappearing within a week.

    Well, Pop asked if we could “park” our trailered outboard boat in his carport while the folks went house hunting, and she went around telling the neighbors to “look at what they left THIS time…”

    Her husband was not amused…

  9. Wow! Interesting post, Debbie. I’d never heard of this before.

    Wonder if I could work this into a story or two…

    People work so hard being dishonest; if they’d use that time to be honest, they’d sure be better off. Hmm…then where’d we get that good story fodder?

    Have a great day!

  10. Isn’t that always the way? Some innocent person buys a product, and they’re stiffed the money. Last summer, I went to my bank and withdrew cash to run errands. In the grocery store I used self-checkout and the register kept spitting out my $100 bill. So, I called the manager. Meanwhile, I studied the bill. It looked odd, couldn’t put my finger on it, but just off in some way. The manager strolls over and I explain the register wouldn’t take my bill.

    “Lemme see it,” she says. When she examines the bill, she claims it’s counterfeit.

    Thankfully, I live in small town and she recognized me as a regular. She traded me $100 bills and I left. Can you imagine if I lived in a big city? I’d be out $100 and the bank would never admit to giving it to me.

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