Nordstrom security agents arrested for theft http://www.privateofficer.com
King of Prussia PA OCT 3 2008
Seven women accused of stealing and returning thousands of dollars of merchandise at Nordstrom stores for cash escaped notice for months, according to law-enforcement investigators.
But the tide began to turn in May.
Some of the alleged thieves were store security employees, called loss-prevention agents in modern retail parlance, and had a leg-up on how to avoid getting caught stealing.
In fact, the alleged ringleader of the theft scheme, 26-year-old Rozita Davani, had been loss-prevention manager at the King of Prussia store until she quit last spring
Though the suspected thieves operated under the radar beginning in January, by May a seasoned Nordstrom investigator, Melissa Bridge, discovered numerous customer orders were missing and began to unravel the alleged fraud that involved not only the King of Prussia Plaza store but also stores in New Jersey and Maryland, according to court papers.
Last Sunday, Upper Merion Township police detectives were conducting surveillance at Nordstrom and saw the women loading allegedly stolen merchandise into a car parked at the King of Prussia Plaza.
Police arrested Taaimah Crandall, 21; Jamila Love, 22; Marguerite Willis, 32; and Keyona Lambert, 26; all of Philadelphia; Athina Theodoridis, 27, and Shavon Keith, 26, both Maryland residents; and Davani, who lives in Wyncote, according to court papers.
Davani had worked for Nordstrom for eight years. Theodoridis was a former co-worker of Davani’s at a Maryland store.
Before becoming the anti-theft boss at the Upper Merion store, Davani had been part of the organized retail crime investigative team with Bridge, according to Upper Merion police Detective David Gershanick.
“She knew how to catch people, and she knew how to get around security measures,” he alleged.
Willis and Lambert were also loss-prevention agents at King of Prussia. As of Friday, Lambert was still at large, according to police.
The defendants are charged with retail theft, operating a corruption organization, criminal conspiracy and related offenses.
After the refunds raised Bridge’s suspicions, she researched all refunds involving Love and Crandall, and learned that all those customer orders had been placed in other states, then shipped to the King of Prussia store’s mailroom.
But instead of shipping the merchandise to the customers’ homes, the goods were being taken from the mailroom and refunded for cash, gift cards or exchanged for designer clothing, according to the affidavit.
Eventually, Bridge notified Upper Merion detectives who joined the investigation in July. Though Bridge and the police had strong suspicions the women were stealing, catching them in the act was another matter.
“I was getting frustrated,” Gershanick said.
As the summer wore on, the detective turned to Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Bob Sander for advice. The attorney agreed the case was difficult to crack.
“It was a cat-and-mouse game,” Sander said.
On several occasions, suspects would exchange merchandise for gift cards or other new merchandise. The new merchandise would then be returned by another suspect in exchange for a gift card. Next, the same suspect would use the gift card to buy merchandise — then immediately return that purchase for a cash refund.
These methods were intended to conceal the fraud.
“They were trying to launder the money,” Gershanick alleged.
Bridge tracked the stolen goods by the unique identifying item codes attached to each bought item of merchandise.
After allegedly stealing from the upscale retailer for nearly nine months, police detectives finally caught the suspects loading bags full of clothing into the trunks of cars in a King of Prussia Plaza parking garage last Sunday, according to court papers.
“They had so much stuff in one bag, that it just broke open,” the detective alleged.
Shortly after Davani drove into the garage in her Volvo with Keith and Theodoridis and parked the car, Love Crandall came out with bags of merchandise. Davani soon emerged carrying bags.
Willis, Love and Crandall eventually left the garage in a Buick LeSabre. When police caught up to the Buick on a Schuylkill Expressway ramp, Willis was reportedly about to call and warn the other women who were still at Nordstrom, but Gershanick snatched the phone out of her hand, according to reports.
On Sept. 21 alone, the women had allegedly taken $16,597.44 worth of clothing from the store and packed it in the car trunks, police state.
Also while searching the vehicles, investigators found receipts belonging to customers whose purchases went missing from the mailroom, the affidavit states.
On their criminal shopping excursions, the suspects allegedly traveled to New Jersey malls in Paramus, Short Hills, Roosevelt Field, Menlo Park and Freehold to make exchanges, according to the detective.
Police are still investigating; other arrests may follow.
So far they’ve recovered or accounted for $77,000 worth of stolen merchandise.
“That’s a very conservative number,” Gershanick said.
A Valentino handbag priced at more than $2,000 was reportedly heisted and sold on eBay.
Gershanick worked overtime after the arrests cataloging the mountains of evidence, then he got a few days off. When he returns to work he’ll eventually sort through the suspects’ cell phones sitting on his desk.
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