From $850 Million to $20 Million and a Bailout

Gro Intelligence, a climate analytics startup, was going to fix the global food system.  That’s a tall order.  But folks invested and created an $850-million company.  As it turns out, Gro had no impact on the global food system.  In fact, it did not even make its payroll taxes.

Beware of entrepreneurial wizards promising the world, or at least a new food system.  Gro’s CEO founder is out along with the operations VP, and the Board has hired a law firm to determine what went wrong.  The board now oversees a $20 to $25-million company.

One has to wonder, where was the board when it was reviewing the company’s financials? Contributions to the employee retirement plans were late. Yet, Gro, ranked as one of the most influential companies in 2021,  was not making  payroll. And 60% of its work force has been pink-slipped with remaining employees promised that they will get their missed paychecks.  Getting that in writing will still put those employees  fourth in line in bankruptcy.

There was the usual cash-burn problem as former Gro CEO Sara Menger did her TED talks and Davos appearances. She had lined up some clients such as Bayer and Unilever, and shame on them for buying it all hook, line, and sinker.  But the board saw nothing except star power and heard only promises until a consultant came on board, as it were, and discovered the payroll issues.

Sophisticated board members awaken and arise.  Forget about the rankings, the PR, and the promises. Forget about markets and valuations.  Stick with the basics:  Are we meeting payroll? Sad that we cannot trust executives to do the basics that the smallest LLCs and S corps do.  Sophistication and Davos do buy cover.  Ignore the media coverage and hype, don’t hire consultants — just ask employees about their paychecks.

Juliet Chung, “Climate Analytics Startup, Once Rising Star, Is in Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2024, p. B1.

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Oprah and WeightWatchers

Oprah Winfrey has served as a spokesperson and board member at WeightWatchers.  However, in December 2023, Oprah, having lost 40 pounds touting the self-discipline WeightWatcher plan of  counting points,  announced that she had been  taking one of the weight loss medications.

WeightWatchers’ stock took a 25% plunge.

Oprah, who responded to the hoopla about her announcement seemed baffled, “What?” was a summary of her response.  The deception, the millions of WeightWatcher sign-ups in response to her success, seemed to be an issue.

Oprah will now be leaving the WeightWatcher board, but she assures that she still believes in its programs and follows them.  Right-o!

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Harvard: Not an Ounce of Common Sense

Whilst serving on a dissertation committee, I gained mighty insight into the halls of academe. My fellow committee members and I were sitting in shocked silence.  We had just finished a PhD candidate’s oral defense. The defense was a stunner.  The candidate could not answer questions, tackle challenges, or even summarize  what he had written.

He was terrific at spouting terms, stringing them together, and concluding circuitously.  But  mumbo-jumbo hung heavily in the room. One committee member shook his head and observed, “Sometimes I think we take these doctoral students for five to seven years and just beat the common sense right out of them.”

In fact, there are now generations of them, lumbering about the halls of academe, and continuing to spout mumbo-jumbo.  Harvard is the leading residence for the mumbling jumbos.

To tackle the issues surrounding Harvard’s  international embarrassment in its standards for and treatment of Jewish students, the new acting president created a Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism.   The head of the task force is Professor Derek Penslar.

Professor Penslar’s book titles alone suggest that his heart may not be into even-handedness:: “Israeli Historical Revisionism,” “Shylock’s Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe,” and “Colonialism and the Jews.”  His books never quite get around to covering, say, anti-Zionism. But he has covered topics such as Israel’s creation of apartheid, grounded in “Jewish Supremacism.”

On what planet was this choice acceptable ? Give us a welder, a butcher, a baker, and throw in a candlestick maker for the climate-change crowd.  In short, give us some common sense.

In the Neil Simon comedy, “Seems Like Old Times,” a character proposes a ridiculous solution for stopping nightmareish headlines.  Upon hearing the insane suggestion the victim character responds, ” We’ll make the cover of the National Enquirer!”

Yes, the magazine that relies on lack of common  sense for readership and defies the laws of defamation would worry about running a story that Harvard’s anti-Semitic task force is headed by a professor whose writings highlight the problems with Israel and the  Jews.

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Debacle Two by a Board: Harvard’s Board and Pauline Gay

In studying the Harvard Board’s actions when it comes to hiring and not firing presidents of their institution, the old adage of warning comes to mind, “Would you buy a used car from this person?”

Let’s run down the checklist of the Board’s missteps:

  1.  Claudine Gay did not have the depth of experience in management or leadership that is necessary to be an effective university president. Lawyers prepped her for her testimony.  You can’t toss out legal mumbo jumbo when your students are chanting “From the River to the sea” stuff about eliminating Jews. Genocide cannot be washed away by claiming the  cleansing of the “First Amendment.”   Harvard ranked dead last in a survey on campus freedom of expression. Harvard has spent years banishing speakers and rescinding admission offers for what it deemed offensive speech. Dr. Gay spent weeks trying to clarify her testimony and only made more mumbo jumbo. Rookie mistakes.
  2. The Board did a lousy job of vetting Dr. Gay.  The background check did not pick up the plagiarism (and just an online search could have done that, which is why Christopher Rufo wrote about the issue just five days after Dr. Gay’s testimony before Congress). Even without that issue, there was the sheer unremarkable and pedestrian qualities of her dissertation and other work.  Her scholarship did not move the needle in her field. To quote Carol M. Swain, whose work Dr. Gay plagiarized, “Ms. Gay was able to parlay mediocre research into tenure and administrative advancement at what was once considered a world-class university.”  Carol M. Swain, “Claudine Gay and My Scholarship,” Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2023, p. A15.
  3. The Board did not spend enough time investigating or offering  transparency for previous complaints about Dr. Gay’s plagiarism (in October 2023 –two months prior to her testimony).  The Board was quick to sniff at those charges as well as the post-testimony disclosures. The arrogance is stunning.  But boards that dismiss allegations too quickly pay the price.  See Barclay’s board and Jes Staley. See McDonald’s board and Steve Easterbrook. Neither CEOs nor boards can ride out misconduct. More just keeps a’comin’.
  4. The Board was more focused on DEI than credentials.  First woman to be a Harvard president (pardon the use of the term “woman”). Harvard’s first black leader. Now firing her would be an embarrassing admission of a lesser standard for the pedigrees required of minority candidates.
  5. The inconsistency of the Board in upholding stated Harvard standards is stunning.  Imagine what students are thinking, “All I have to do is put quotes around my whole assignment and I am in the clear for lifting it.” There’s an arrogance in the inconsistency too, “We are Harvard.  We don’t care.  We don’t have to because we are Harvard.”  Until the boycotts come.  From potential employers. From bright students choosing to go elsewhere. As one Harvard faculty member noted, this is an inflection point.  One wonders if the Board understands that.
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Three Debacles and Rookie Mistakes by Boards: Debacle One: HeadSpin

We have this vision in our minds about corporate boards:  experienced, no-nonsense folks with bottom-line good sense all wrapped together in a “does not suffer fools well” package.  Three recent case studies tell us that we are misguided in our assumptions.  Here’s the first example in a series.

HeadSpin — Yet another Silicon Valley fraud start-up. Who were the investors? To name two:  GV — Google’s (Alphabet’s) venture capital subsidiary and  Iconiq Capital (manager for the Zuckerberg fortune but terrible at spelling).

These gazillionaires, with off-the-charts IQs, plunked their money into a company without getting board representation.  They also let HeadSpin sally forth without a single audit.  In fact, HeadSpin had one accountant — a freelance accountant who worked from home and used only QuickBooks.

HeadSpin had no CFO or HR department. When anyone asked for, oh, say, financials, Manish Lachwani, simply ignored them.

HeadSpin claimed Apple and American Express were clients that used its software for app testing.  No one ever checked with those companies to verify that they were indeed customers. They were not and there were many others on the list of customers who were not customers.

Well, it was a fraud.  So much of a fraud that Lachwani has entered a guilty plea to three counts of fraud.  Most of the other fraudsters have at least gone to trial. One of his not-so-clever tricks was to take investors’ money and  invest it in Snap, Roku, and Tesla. He never shared his portfolio approach to running a business with his investors.  He made up financial statements and joined a long line of Silicon Valley fraudsters:  Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos); Samual Bankman-Fried (FTX), Trevor Milton (Nikola), and 9/10ths of the dot.coms.

The lack of oversight is stunning — no financials, no CFO, no bank statements – just a few of the things boards should be looking at. But governance is something to be mocked in the Valley unless it involves whipping nuns into a frenzy about climate change so that they can take center stage at the annual meeting.

The excitement over something new in tech draws investors, but the genius of ideas and takes structure to turn that idea into a business.  Both investors and boards should  know by now that when it comes to Silicon Valley investments: Do not trust and verify everything.

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“Michigan State Confirms Its Sixth President in Six Years.”

Well, there just might be a culture problem at that university.

New York Times, December 10, 2023, p. A28.

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“Overdoses Up, Leaders Rethink Relaxed Drug Policies in Portland.”

Well, la-de-dah. who knew?

Headline, New York Times, December 12, 2023, p, A1.

 

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Catching Up with Indicted Cardinal Angelo Becciu

On July 4, 2021, the Barometer posted the following

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the former chief of staff for the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, was indicted, along with nine others, for money laundering, fraud, and abuse of office. It seems the Vatican investment in some real estate in London’s Chelsea neighborhood went south. The building had been a Harrods Department Store showroom but was to be turned into luxury apartments.

Dreams turned to dust, and the Vatican lost about 350 million Euros in the deal. Turns out that the broker involved has refused to turn over title to the building the Vatican thought it bought. Business risk is inevitable but a broker purloining a building from the Catholic Church is something more than a risk. “Multiply it by infinity, and take it to the depth of forever, and you will still have barely a glimpse of what I’m talking about,” to quote Joe Black, aka Death.

Already, Pope Francis has stripped Cardinal Becciu of his employment as “head of the Vatican’s saint-making department.” The Barometer does not know the qualifications for heading up such a unit, but being under indictment would surely call Cardinal Bicciu’s credentials into question.

Now the update — the trial is ongoing. The Vatican sold the building for $225 million — it had put in about $400 million for purchase and improvements. But prosecutors have also brought in Cecilia Marogona, a self-styled intelligence expert, who was sent 675,000 Euros to use in freeing a nun kidnapped by Islamist militants in Bali.  Got that?

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez was released on October 9, 2021, five years after being captured.  However, some of the money is missing sent to Cecilia, the intelligence expert, is missing.  Cecilia, not spent at least one night at Cardinal Becciu’s apartment.

However, Cardinal Becciu responded to the speculation about their relationship, Sonia Munda mounds,” or “to the pure in heart everything is pure.”  The Wall Street Journal concluded the cardinal was quoting from an Italian novel, “The Betrothed.”  Actually, the Barometer gives the cardinal a break.  He may be quoting the New Testament, Titus 1:15,Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”

At any rate, the Vatican needs a good accountant and a conviction to clean house. The Pope is hoping for a verdict of innocence.  Somehow, given the cardinal’s questionable conduct, innocence is not a quality that comes to mind.

Francis X. Rocca, “A Cardinal Once Seen as Future Pope Now Faces Prison,”  Wall Street Journal,”  December 13, 2023, A1.

UPDATE:  Giovanni Angelo Becciu was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison for financial crimes.  Yes, Pope Francis’ former chief of staff is going to jail. Elisabetta Povoledo, “Vatican Fraud Scandal Ends in Prison Term for Once-Powerful Cardinal,” New York Times, December 17, 2023, p. A13.

In addition to the shock of financial malfeasance and/or incompetence at the highest levels of the Catholic Church, the Barometer was also surprised to learn that the Pope had a “chief of staff.” The political imagery sends the mind reeling.  Bob  (H.R.) Halderman and all.

 

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Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up and Go to Harvard

Mercy!  Watching the debacle of the three sirens (the presidents of Penn, MIT, and Harvard) testify about calls for genocide was frightening.  The three managed to reach the same conclusion:  Halting calls for genocide of Jews or imposing sanctions on students who do so is controlled by context. Until there is physical harm or action taken, no harm, no foul.

The three got things so wrong. There are tips we can all take away from this experience.

  1.  Don’t allow lawyers to prep you for public hearings.  Two of the sirens (Claudine Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill (formerly of Penn)) were prepped separately by teams from WilmerHale.  WilmerHale also had a separate meeting with Sally Kornbluth of MIT.  Apparently the message and advice was the same (although the Barometer is guessing that the billing was separate although the prep was, no doubt, the same).  When testifying in a public hearing, the key is not legalisms.  The key is public perception. Outrage at the witness is not a good outcome when  an executive gives public testimony. (Lauren Hirsch, “One Law Firm Prepared Two Colleges for Hearing,” New York Times, December 10, 2023)
  2. Check your records for what your organization has done vis-a-vis abusive language before testifying.  Hypocrisy is a killer when it comes to posturing. Dr. Gay would have known that Harvard’s code  prohibits “using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks, and using racial stereotypes.”  Perhaps she also would have known that Harvard ranked 248 out of 248 schools on individual rights of expression.  That’s dead last. Using the terms “fatphobia” and  “cisheterosexism” are a form of abuse at Harvard as described in Harvard’s required training materials for all students. Harvard revoked the admission of several potential students several years ago for their offensive posts on Facebook. In fact, the training teaches that using incorrect pronouns to refer to someone is abuse.  Calling for genocide of a group surely has a place in that code somewhere . Ingrid Jacques, “Harvard president botched her testimony on antisemitism. Firing her would’ve made it worse,”  USA Today, December 12, 2023,
  3. Forget the First Amendment stuff the lawyers drilled into you. Free speech does have that “Don’t yell fire in a crowded theater!” exception.  More importantly, Harvard is not a public entity; it is a private one.  It has the authority to control speech on its premises without trampling on First Amendment rights. Answer as a human being — not a puppet for big law firms who trickled legal technicalities into your brain.
  4. Lose the subterfuge. The plagiarism investigation probably should have been disclosed  — again something Harvard has done to students in the past, along with penalties, such as expulsion.
  5. As the lawyers say and should have told you, this phrase works wonders, “Mea culpa.” Not pledges to do better, Not, “Here’s what I meant.”
  6. If you have been accepted at Harvard, decline the offer.  If you are the parent of  child who been admitted, tell them this tale of, “The Three Sirens Go to Congress.”  And then ask the question, “Is the cost of attending an institution that lacks structured thoughts, clear values, and consistent standards for all worth it?” Explain that putting Harvard on your resume now will probably get some giggles and smirks, but not a job.  What has been done to chip away the value of a college degree and now Harvard’s standing is a tragedy.
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Retail Clerks Strike Over Too Much Shoplifting

United Food & Commercial Workers Local (UFCW) 3000 (Seattle) went on strike against Macy’s.  The reason?  Too many shoplifters.  Actually, their members’  complaint was no protection against shoplifting.

In Seattle, where stealing up to $750 is a misdemeanor, the likelihood of prosecution is zilch.  So, no one calls the police.  Macy’s is not alone in its hands-off policies.  Between facing lawsuits based on racism and the lack of arrests, most retailers just let the thieves grab and go.

The strike followed the suspension of Liisa Luick, a Macy’s employee who called 911 to report a repeat shoplifter well known to local officers.  Macy’s suspended Ms. Luick for three weeks without pay for violating company policy.

Macy’s settled with the union and Ms. Luick after the UFCW filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Macy’s.  Ms. Luick got her back pay.

The striking clerks cited their constant battles with thieves that present a safety threat to them and their customers. They also noted the lack of private security.  Ms. Luick explained that when she called security there was no answer.

The clerks are back to work now, but the shoplifting continues.  Macy’s is negotiating terms with the union.

When there is no enforcement, crime does tend to skyrocket. Forbes notes that Seattle has position 5 in the rankings of U.S. cities with the most organized retail theft. Washington state has the highest theft rate of the 50 states.  Its per capita average is $347 in stolen goods and more than 2,300 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2021. In 2022, Washington retailers had $3 billion in shrinkage from theft.

Seattle has raised the white flag.  The shoplifters have won. So far, the only punishment related to shoplifting has been imposed on a clerk who tried to catch a thief.

“Seattle-Area Macy’s Workers Strike for Better Protection from Crimes,”  Seattle Times, November 24, 2023,

 

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Hitchhiking One’s Way Through a Marathon

Joasia Zakrzewski is a top ultramarathoner.  For those not familiar with the sport, ultramarathoners run 50-miles in their races. In April 2023, during a 50-mile race from Manchester to Liverpool, Ms. Zakrzewski, picked up a ride from a friend for 2.5 miles of that race.  She finished third in the race and accepted the trophy.

However, honesty being what it is these days, race officials conduct post-race audits looking for time anomalies.  A post-race audit allows officials to check the times of the runners between checkpoints.  The audit showed that Ms. Zakrzewski finished one mile of the race in 1 minute and 40 seconds.  That’s a 100-second mile! Quit a clip!  When confronted, Ms. Zakrzewski admitted to accepting the ride and apologized for her mistake in accepting the third-place trophy.

Actually, the apology should have been for going cruising with a friend during an ultramarathon.  The Barometer would have tried to run a marathon had she known of the auto-buddy possibilities. Ms. Zakrzewski denied that she was trying to “cheat” or “conceal the fact that she had traveled in a car for part of the race.” One wonders how the friend happened to be toddling along marathoners that day.

The usual penalty for such a breach of the rules would be a two-year suspension from the sport.  However, Ms. Zakrzewski offered jet lag as a mitigating factor.  The officials of U.K. Athletics bought that defense hook, line, and sinker and gave her a one-year suspension.

The Barometer envisions criminal minds all over the world standing before judges with the jet-lag defense.  “Your honor, I took the red-eye from Paris to New York and the next thing I knew I was robbing a bank.”

Do these runners not know history?  Rosie Ruiz took the subway and won the Boston Marathon, temporarily, in 1980.  In the chutzpah department, Fred Lorz (and race auditors should focus on runners with  “Z’s” in their last names– somewhat of a pattern here) hitched an auto ride for 11 miles of his marathon in St. Louis in 1904. Of course, 1904 autos were not much faster than runners so it took awhile for his mechanical assistance to emerge.  He had a sort of Houston Astros attitude, “It really didn’t help that much.”

So, we are left with the ultimate question, “Then, why do it?”  Establishing intent is actually quite easy.

The sport changes, the decades are different, but the cheating mind works the same. And the sanctions are always light, for whatever reason.

 

Victor Mather, “Unhappy Hitchhiker:  A 100-Second Mile Leads to a British Ultramarathoner’s Ban,”  New York Times, November 19, 2023, p. A33.

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Remember the Astros? Apparently Not in Michigan

The allegations against the University of Michigan football team are spy-novel worthy.  Allegedly, according to allegations, in great deference to libel and all that suit-worthy stuff, an attache with military experience was dressed not as a Wolverine (not the animal, just the school  colors for Michigan  coaching staff with the obligatory Nike icon),  Allegedly dressed in opposing team garb, he hung around the opposing team as if he was a member of the coaching staff.  Allegedly, no one noticed.  No one’s interest was piqued enough to ask, “Who are you?”

The alleged undercover Wolverine’s  purpose, allegedly, was to gather alleged intelligence on alleged planned offensive plays. Like baseball, gathering intelligence is permitted under NCAA rules only live and in person during an ongoing game. Unlike the NFL, college players do not have helmet equipment that permits coaches to speak to players directly during the game. Hence, alleged cheaters find a way.

Michigan denies the allegations, demands due process, and is shocked, shocked that anyone would think that Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh would do such a thing or even allow such a thing to allegedly happen on his watch.

Nonetheless, a Michigan team analyst has tendered his resignation.  In his alleged resignation letter the analyst  referred to being an alleged distraction. When there is alleged video of alleged said analyst standing around among the opposite team in an earlier game (sunglassed though he was), the other members of the Big Ten are likely to have questions. Why, the universities have drawn on a computer science prof who is an expert in facial recognition.  The good prof says the alleged analyst is “highly likely” the now former Michigan analyst.

Not to worry.  Just like the Johnny-on-the-spot MLB, the NCAA is allegedy conducting its usual five-year investigation. Like MLB, the NCAA will issue a report.  The report will confirm that the alleged cheating did indeed allegedly happen but unlike the ending in Romeo and Juliet alleged Shakespearean  play, none will be punished.

Remember the Astros, allegedly.

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On Saying Nothing and Just Wearing the Shoes

Adidas, the athletic shoe and apparel  company, had a decade long relationship with rapper Kanye West (Now “Ye”). West’s shoes in the Adidas line (Yeezys) brought the company a billion dollars in sales.

The relationship ended in October 2022 following Ye’s very public inflammatory antisemitic remarks.  Adidas terminated Ye and stopped selling Yeezys.

What has since emerged is that Adidas tolerated behind-closed-doors conduct of Ye throughout the partnership.  Megan Twomey, “Money, Misconduct and the Price of Appeasement,”  New York Times, October 29, 2023, p. A1.

Here is a list of some of the behaviors Adidas executives and employees tolerated to maintain the relationship with the rapper whose name sold shoes:

  1.  In 2013 he required executives to watch pornography in his Manhattan apartment because he told them that it sparked creativity.  That perhaps explains the plastic Yeezy that Adidas designed and released.  The shoes looked like a pair of Crocks that had been run through a shredder.
  2. He told a Jewish Adidas manager to kiss a picture of Hitler every day.
  3. He disclosed to a member of the  Adidas executive board that he had made a seven-figure settlement with one of his own employees for praising the architect of the Holocaust.
  4. His sexually explicit and abusive language resulted in ongoing Adidas employee complaints.

Adidas and Ye signed a new contract in 2016 that included a “moral clause.”  Moral clauses are the means by which companies can rid themselves of spokespersons whose conduct damages the company’s name and/or brand.  Morals clauses have tanked contracts of many celebrities including Paul Deen, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jackson.

After tough negotiations, there was a morals clause in place, but then-Kanye went off the rails.  He made statements that angered and offended even his fans.  Yet Adidas took no action.  Adidas CEO explained on CNBC, “Kanye has helped us have a great comeback in the U.S.  We’re not signing up to his statements.  We’re signing unto what he brings to the brand and the product he’s bringing out.”

In the mean time, Adidas was rotating people who worked with Kanye because of his statements and the toxicity he brought into the company. And the Kanye statements got worse until he posted in October 2022, “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”

Finally, Adidas ended the partnership.  Adidas employees said that their executives knew about Kanye’s behavior but had “turned their moral compasses off.” For about a decade.  In the first meeting Kanye had with Adidas executives, they showed him a shoe design for his name.  He took the design photo and drew a swastika on it.  The German executives should have stopped there. Saying nothing only leads to bolder actions.  Eventually the Kanye behaviors went public.  With much consternation, Adidas ended the relationship after saying nothing for far too long.

Oh, and one more thing. Following losses in 2022, Adidas resumed sale of the shoes.  Seems we all have a tolerance level for antisemitism, sexual harassment, and the outrageous when we like the shoes.  Yes, the anti-morality shoe fits.  Wear it with pride.

 

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The Pastor Who Was a Fencer?

Home Depot was struggling with inventory shrinkage in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The company realized that to stop such high levels of theft, it needed to figure out who the fencers were.  Fencers are critical for criminal networks.  These networks have their “agents,”  who walk out of stores with merchandise they did not pay for.  But then comes the step of unloading the goods on someone for the cash.  Enter the fencer.

The fencer stores the goods and then uses an eBay account or other online selling mechanism to unload the goods and obtain the cash.  Your run-of-the-mill shoplifter does not have the skills or resources for setting up a fencing operation.  Also, it is highly inefficient to have thieves serve as fencers.  One must devote time to running the fencing operation.  Time spent on this management side takes away stealing time.

The Home Depot in St. Petersburg partnered with law enforcement.  Footage  from the store’s security cameras picked up on two people who were regular customers, i.e., the non-paying kind. The cameras saw the two  walking out with two cordless impact wrenches and cordless die grinders that they had not paid for.

The Barometer has no idea what these tools are, but the price range is $75.00 – $549.00 once one gets into the Milwaukee tool line.

The cameras picked up their vehicle license plate.  Agents from the Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Department began surveillance of the two.  They always dropped off their “goods” at a garage at the home of one Robert Dell.  Local police then stepped in and got information on Mr. Dell’s eBay account.  Lo and behold, Mr. Dell was selling cordless impact wrenches and cordless die grinders on eBay.

More than that, the police discovered that one of the customers had been “working” (thieving?) for Mr. Dell for five years, along with many others.  She said that she was caught and arrested once and that Mr. Dell posted her bond.

Mr. Dell’s tool line on eBay was but one of the hats he wore.  He was also the pastor at the Rock Community Church and Transformation Center in St. Petersburg.  Perhaps Mr. Dell was really recruiting parishioners for transformation through the operation? He has entered a plea of “not guilty.”

Congress has passed legislation that requires online retailers to collect information on sellers who have 200 or more transactions and make at least $5,000 in transactions in a 12-month period.  Mr. Dell had 10,500 transactions on eBay from January 2020 until May 2023. He netted $1.5 million on those transactions.  Not bad money if you can get your thief ring staffed.

eBay buyers do not complain because they are getting their goods for below retail. Fencers enjoy high ratings on eBay. EBay will flag items identified by retailers as  high-theft goods.  eBay will then ask sellers to verify their sources for those goods. Mr. Dell showed up on eBay’s radar in 2017, but it was not until Home Depot worked with law enforcement that the pieces were pulled together.

What we do learn?

Retailers need to collect data on their regular shoplifters so that the fencers can be found.  Once you have the fencers, you can bust up the theft rings.  You find fencers in the most benign places.

Congress needs an education on multiple seller accounts on eBay — these clever knaves will find a way around the $5,000/transaction numbers by creating different accounts. Then we will need legislation limiting the number of eBay accounts.  The criminal mind has no limits.

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