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.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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