ATLANTA — It was a family affair for a duo who were convicted of selling stolen items online.
Robert Whitley and his daughter Noni Whitley were sentenced to prison last week for selling millions of dollars of stolen retail products through their online businesses.
“These crimes impact not only the retailers, but every consumer,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “Organized retail crime and other massive frauds have become more common through online platforms. We and our law enforcement partners will continue to seek out and prosecute these criminal enterprises.”
Between Jan. 2011 and Nov. 2019, Robert and Noni Whitley operated an organized retail crime operation in Atlanta through several businesses, including Closeout Express and Essentials Daily Discounts.
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Robert Whitley was the owner and operator of Closeout Express. Noni Whitley worked with her father and helped operate and manage their operation.
Closeout Express and Essential Daily Discounts operated from a warehouse and several homes in Atlanta.
Prosecutors said the duo relied on “boosters”, who are essentially professional shoplifters, to steal specific retail products or categories of items, including over-the-counter medications, shaving razors, oral care products, and health and beauty aids.
The “boosters” stole these products from various retailers, national drugstore chains, and national supermarket chains throughout metro Atlanta, including CVS, Kroger, Publix, Target, and Walgreens.
The “boosters” would typically bring the stolen product in large trash bags to Closeout Express’s warehouse in southwest Atlanta. Robert and Noni Whitley paid the boosters in cash for the stolen product.
The investigation revealed that Robert and Noni Whitley paid dozens of boosters to steal product over the years.
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Closeout Express sold the stolen retail products, at below retail or even wholesale cost, mainly online at its own websites and through various online e-commerce platforms, including the Amazon Marketplace, the Walmart Marketplace, and the Sears Marketplace.
In exchange for a monthly fee or some percentage of the sales, these platforms permit third-party sellers to establish “online storefronts” to sell new or used products on a fixed-price online marketplace alongside these companies’ regular offerings.
Closeout Express established “online storefronts” on each of these marketplaces to sell the stolen retail product.
Overall, Closeout Express sold more than 170,000 items online.
While in operation, Robert and Noni Whitley sold stolen retail product valued at more than $6.1 million through Closeout Express and Essential Daily Discounts across the various e-commerce platforms. Robert Whitley and Noni Whitley also sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of stolen product through Essential Daily Discounts’ own websites. Among other evidence of the operation, agents recovered more than $1 million in stolen retail product.
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While in operation, Robert and Noni Whitley sold stolen retail products valued at more than $6.1 million through Closeout Express and Essential Daily Discounts across the various e-commerce platforms.
Robert Whitley and Noni Whitley also sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of stolen product through Essential Daily Discounts’ own website.
On Oct. 5, 2021, the defendants were sentenced by U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee, to the following:
Robert Whitley AKA Mr. Bob, 70, of Atlanta, was sentenced to 5 years, 10 months in prison to be followed by 3 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 5 years in prison to be followed by 3 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.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Postal Inspection Service.
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