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.