CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–March 5, 2014. Three members of a suburban Northbrook family were arrested and charged with interstate transportation of stolen property following a purported shopping odyssey that started on Feb. 17 in Oklahoma, continued two days later at malls in Texas, and wound through Louisiana on Feb. 20, before they returned to Northbrook the next day. The defendants, together with a cooperating individual who acted as their “fence,” and others sold merchandise with a retail value of $7.1 million for a combined total of $4.2 million through their eBay online merchant accounts over the last decade, according to a federal criminal complaint announced today.
The defendants, BRANKO BOGDANOV, 58; his wife, LELA BOGDANOV, 52; and their daughter, JULIA BOGDANOV, 34, were arrested by Secret Service agents yesterday afternoon at their residence on Weller Lane in Northbrook. They were each charged with interstate transportation of stolen property in a criminal complaint that was filed in U.S. District Court. All three are scheduled to appear at 11 a.m. today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason.
According to the complaint affidavit, loss prevention executives at Barnes and Noble, Inc., and Toys R Us, Inc., recently told Secret Service agents that their stores had sustained a huge loss in merchandise, including American Girl dolls, Furby robotic toys, Lego blocks, baby monitors, and baby carriers. With eBay’s assistance, the retail executives further determined that a particular eBay account sold large quantities of these specific items and that the amount of merchandise sold often matched the quantities of the same item stolen from one of their stores.
Representatives of Barnes and Noble, Toys R Us, and eBay provided substantial assistance to law enforcement in the investigation.
The store officials further obtained information identifying the owner of the eBay account, who resides in a Chicago suburb. They learned that the individual, who is now cooperating with law enforcement, sold $3.4 million in merchandise, with an estimated retail value of $6 million, over the past 10 years, and that the cooperating individual (CI) had purchased the merchandise from a man the CI knew as “Franko Kalath,” an alias linked to Branko Bogdanov.
Secret Service agents corroborated information from the store and eBay officials, and the CI provided them with extensive hand-written notes and receipts indicating a vast variety of items that the CI allegedly purchased from Branko Bogdanov, including toys, electronic equipment, baby supplies, and kitchenware. Agents also seized from the CI numerous items that the CI had purchased from the individual known as “Franko Kalath,” all of which appeared to be new and in their original packaging.
Further investigation revealed that Bogdanov family members share a single PayPal account and that together they had sold $692,278 in merchandise through their individual eBay accounts. Many of the items sold were similar to the items sold by the CI, the complaint alleges.
As background, the complaint affidavit details additional thefts from Barnes and Noble, Toys R Us, and other retailers that occurred between October and December 2012 in Pikesville, Md., Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Murfreesboro, Tenn., where either telephone records, video surveillance, or both allegedly show the Bogdanovs were at or near at the time and date of specific retail thefts.
On Feb. 19, surveillance followed the defendants from store to store at or near the Woodlands and Willowbrook malls in the vicinity of The Woodlands, Tex., north of Houston. During a traffic stop by Houston police, the Bogdanovs gave officers numerous items from their vehicle, and those items later matched merchandise that various stores confirmed were stolen that day, according to the complaint.
The surveillance continued the following day through Louisiana, where additional merchandise was stolen at stores in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, resulting in another traffic stop that night on northbound I-55 near Canton, Miss. The trio arrived back in Northbrook in Feb. 21. A few days later, the CI received messages from “Franko Kalath” with photos showing an array of merchandise that was available for sale, the charges allege.
The complaint describes repeated instances of Lela Bogdanov wearing a long black skirt that appeared larger and fuller when she exited various retail stores than when she entered. The dress, which was seized shortly after she was arrested, has a blue lining capable of containing multiple rectangular objects, and was allegedly used to cart hidden merchandise from stores. At times, surveillance showed items protruding from the skirt when she exited stores, often accompanied by various diversions instigated by one of more of the family members, according to the complaint.
Interstate transportation of stolen property carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and restitution is mandatory. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The arrests and charges were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Frank Benedetto, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the U.S. Secret Service. Numerous local police departments are also assisting in the investigation.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti.
The public is reminded that a complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.