For years, they paid professional shoplifters to target pharmacies and big box stores across metro Atlanta and then sold the stolen items on popular websites.
Now, an Atlanta man and his daughter face federal prison time after pleading guilty in the elaborate multi-million dollar scheme, prosecutors said Thursday.
Robert Whitley, 70, and Noni Whitley, 46, sold more than $5 million worth of stolen merchandise between January 2011 and November 2019, authorities said. The father-daughter duo reportedly operated out of a southwest Atlanta warehouse, paying shoplifters cash for trash bags filled with over-the-counter drugs, shaving razors and beauty products.
They ran two seemingly legitimate businesses and also sold the stolen merchandise at discounted rates on popular websites such as the Amazon, Walmart and Sears marketplaces, acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said in a news release.
The drugs and cosmetics were stolen from retail chains and supermarkets across the metro area, including CVS, Kroger, Publix, Target and Walgreens, officials said.
“Robert and Noni Whitley operated a well-organized criminal enterprise disguised as an apparently legitimate small business,” Erskine said, calling the operation “retail theft on a massive scale.”
“We will continue to work with retailers and manufacturers to combat organized retail crime that is made easier and more lucrative by the ease by which stolen product can be sold online,” he added.
Investigators said the two sold the stolen items for cheap through the businesses Closeout Express and Essential Daily Discounts, which were owned by the elder Whitley. Noni Whitley worked with her father and helped operate and manage the organized retail crime operation, authorities said.
Closeout Express mainly sold the stolen retail products online at its own websites and through several e-commerce platforms, typically below retail and even wholesale prices. The duo also sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen products through Essential Daily Discounts’ website.
The operation was shut down in late 2019 when federal agents raided the Closeout Express warehouse and several homes connected to the Whitleys. Investigators said the locations had been used to sort, store and “process” the stolen items by removing store information and any anti-theft devices that were left on the packages. During the raids, agents recovered more than $1 million in stolen merchandise.
“For more than eight years, the Whitleys profited off the backs of legitimate retailers by encouraging theft of their products for resale online,” FBI Atlanta Special Agent Chris Hacker said.
Robert Whitley pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property and his daughter pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property, prosecutors said. Their sentencing hearings will be held July 28 in federal court.
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