Robert Whitley, and his daughter Noni Whitley, have been sentenced to federal prison for selling millions of dollars of stolen retail products through their online businesses, Closeout Express and Essentials Daily Discounts.
“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.”
“The Whitley’s are now paying the price for inflicting financial harm to legitimate small businesses and consumers affected by those businesses losses,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners are committed to working together to protect consumers and businesses from these types of crimes.”
“Postal Inspectors will continue to vigorously pursue individuals that are driven by their own insatiable greed and also demonstrate a blatant disregard for the economic impact that can occur,” said Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division. “This sentence is the culmination of a successful joint investigative effort to dismantle an ongoing retail crime ring and continue to ensure the integrity of the mail system.”
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Erskine, the charges and other information presented in court: Between approximately January 2011 and November 2019, Robert and Noni Whitley operated an organized retail crime operation (“ORC”) in Atlanta through several entities, including Closeout Express and Essentials Daily Discounts.
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.
Closeout Express and Essential Daily Discounts operated from a warehouse and several residences in Atlanta. The defendants relied on “boosters”—who are essentially professional shoplifters—to steal specific retail products or categories of items, including over-the-counter medications (e.g., Prilosec, Nexium, Rogaine, and Claritin), 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.
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.
Specifically, Closeout Express operated an online storefront on the Amazon Marketplace from approximately January 2011 until July 2018. During that time, Closeout Express sold more than 140,000 items through this storefront. With respect to the Walmart and Sears Marketplaces, Closeout Express operated online storefronts beginning in September 2017 and December 2014, respectively. Through these two online storefronts, Closeout Express processed more than 30,000 orders.
In November 2019, after an investigation, law enforcement shut down the Whitleys’ operation. That month, the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service executed multiple search warrants at Closeout Express’s southwest Atlanta warehouse and multiple residences connected to Robert and Noni Whitley.
These locations had been used to sort, store, and process the stolen retail product (e.g., to “clean” the items of identifying information or anti-theft devices). Among other evidence of the ORC operation, agents recovered more than $1 million in stolen retail product.
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 website.
On October 5, 2021, the defendants were sentenced by U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee, to the following:
- 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.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Postal Inspection Service.
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