By Debbie Burke
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.