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Breaking News in the Industry: October 17, 2018

Ringleader of fraud conspiracy sentenced to 14 years

A Maryland man was sentenced today in Alexandria federal court to 14 years in prison for masterminding a fraudulent scheme that exploited the identities of at least 124 victims and caused over $870,000 in losses in less than two years. According to court documents, Michael Oginni, 46, of Rockville, perpetrated fraud for over 20 years, using violence to exert control over his underlings. His schemes evolved from simple credit card fraud to a sophisticated operation designed to outsmart security features that the United States banking system had adopted, such as microchip-embedded credit cards. He was convicted of fraud-related offenses in the United Kingdom in the 1990s and advanced his criminal schemes in the United States after relocating to this country in 2007.

From 2015 to 2017, Oginni ran a conspiracy that exploited the identities of victims throughout the United States. Oginni ordered custom-made counterfeit drivers’ licenses bearing the photographs of his co-conspirators and the real information of his victims, including their real dates of birth and addresses. Then, he directed his co-conspirators to enter into fraudulent apartment leases in the Washington, D.C. area using those victims’ identities.

The members of the conspiracy used the “new addresses” of their victims to receive important mail: debit and credit cards that he and his co-conspirators had applied for in the names of their victims. From there, Oginni and his co-conspirators wreaked havoc on the credit of their victims, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent charges for luxury goods and gift cards, and making high-interest transfers from credit accounts to debit accounts. Oginni used the fraudulent income to finance a lavish lifestyle, frequently entertaining escorts and making purchases of luxury goods. Oginni’s co-conspirators, Lacola Nickens, Andraliesha Jefferson, and Robert McCrickard, were each convicted and sentenced earlier this year.   [Source: Alexandria News]

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Woman arrested after shoplifting; leading police on high speed chase

A woman was arrested after stealing from a discount store and leading police on a high-speed chase in north Houston Monday night. Around 9:30 p.m., the 57-year-old woman was caught shoplifting $150 worth of items from a Ross store on the North Freeway at Airline. Employees said the woman would place items in a plastic bag and then bring them to her car in the parking lot. The woman apparently did this multiple times and when employees confronted her, she left the store and took off in an SUV.

The employees were able to flag down an HPD officer who followed the woman. The officer tried to get her to pull over but she kept driving, reaching speeds up to 90 mph, according to HPD. The chase lasted for about ten minutes before she turned down a dead-end street. Officers said the woman still wouldn’t listen to commands and get out of the vehicle so they had to physically pull her out and handcuff her. The officers found more than $2,000 worth of merchandise in the back of her SUV. She is now facing charges of evading arrest and theft. HPD has not yet released her identity.    [Source: KHOU11 News]

Just how much upside is there for JCPenney in Sears’ bankruptcy?

Sears Holdings and JCPenney share a lot in common, most notably many of the same troubled malls where they operate stores. Sears had long been the larger department store chain, the more expansive in scope and the retail giant casting the longer shadow. But over the past decade, as Sears’ footprint shrank at an astonishing pace, their sales grew closer together (though Sears’ remain larger by several billion dollars). Problematically, they both also carry large debt loads that have strained the bottom line and worried investors.

Now, as Sears plans to close another 142 stores in bankruptcy, JCPenney has both an opportunity and a challenge in front of it. Sears’ Chapter 11 throws Penney’s own financial challenges into sharp relief as the company’s turnaround slogs on and a new team of executives take over — led by new CEO Jill Soltau, formerly of Joann — who will no doubt be under pressure to change the narrative at the retailer. The main challenge arising out of Sears’ fall into bankruptcy is that Penney has already struggled with discounting, and now it has to price against yet more Sears going-out-of-business sales. As analysts at Morgan Stanley led by Kimberly Greenberger put it in an Oct. 11 client note, “Near term, if [Sears] decides to close additional stores and/or engage in liquidation sales, retailers operating in the corresponding trade areas could experience some short term pressure.”

The analysts noted, however, that Sears was closing stores by the hundreds well before bankruptcy (835 Kmart locations and 335 Sears locations over the past five years, according to Morgan Stanley). Moody’s Vice President Christina Boni said in emailed comments that the “absorption of the Sears’ soft lines product to be closed initially should be manageable for other softline competitors in the coming months.” Penney’s ability to weather Sears liquidation sales and capitalize on the latter’s further decline — if not total liquidation — could prove critical as Penney tries to improve its own sales.

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It’s also worth noting that Penney has been downsizing as well, giving up not only top-line sales but also market share in the process. Between July 2017 and Aug. 4 of this year, Penney closed 146 stores, according to securities filings. According to data provided to Retail Dive from analytics firm Earnest Research, Penney’s market share (including in e-commerce) in areas where it closed stores has dropped from 11.3% in July 2016 to 6.9% in September 2018. (This followed a brief spike to more than 16% share in mid-2017 while Penney was holding liquidation sales.)

The opportunity would seem large for Penney, but so are the stakes. The retailer, which carries nearly $4 billion in debt, went through a round of credit downgrades this year following consecutive quarters of disappointing operating results and few signs of the trajectory changing in the near term. While the company has a lot of debt, Penney also has some major assets left, including owned real estate, that could keep bankruptcy at bay and influence the strategy for the new leadership team. Emma noted a Cushman and Wakefield valuation of Penney’s real estate that put it at $3.1 billion. “As Eddie Lampert has shown over the last several years with Sears, there is value to be extracted from an asset-rich company, provided of course one is willing to completely ignore traditional metrics like same store sales,” Emma said.   [Source: RetailDIVE]

Suspect double dips in retail theft

Edwin Elisha Baker, 31, was charged with two counts of grand theft. A Starke, Florida, man was arrested Wednesday after police say he stole merchandise from Walmart on Tuesday — and then went back on Wednesday for more. At 4:25 p.m. Tuesday, Baker went through Walmart, 5700 NW 23rd St., and stole $466 worth of merchandise, according to a Gainesville Police Department arrest report. At 11:10 a.m. Wednesday — less than 24 hours later — the report said Baker went back to the same Walmart and stole $471.69 worth of merchandise.

The second time around, a loss prevention associate recognized Baker and followed him to a nearby gas station. Police said they found Baker hiding in the gas station’s mop closet. Baker denied any involvement in the theft, according to police. Baker was booked into the Alachua County jail.   [Source:]

- Digital Partner -

Man who shoved loss prevention associate charged with robbery

In New Jersey, Closter patrol units were dispatched to Whole Foods in Closter Plaza on a report of a shoplifting white male suspect who fled the store. Police were told the suspect had gotten into a black Honda and were provided with a vehicle registration. Upon arriving, Officer Christopher Barbieri observed a black Honda with matching registration traveling northbound. Barbieri activated his patrol car’s emergency lights and conducted a motor vehicle stop. Barbieri approached the driver’s side and made contact with the driver, a Midland Park man whose name was redacted from the arrest report provided to Northern Valley Press.

With backup officers arriving, the driver was placed in handcuffs and advised he was being detained. The Whole Foods loss prevention associate was brought onto the scene to identify the man. The LP associate had attempted to stop the man from exiting the store through the bakery, stepping in front of him and asking him to show him a receipt, prompting the suspect to drop the items and physically shove him out of the way before fleeing the store. The man was placed under arrest for robbery and was lodged in Bergen County Jail after processing.   [Source: Pascack Press]

Toys R Us comeback in works as bankruptcy auction canceled

There may be a second act for Toys R Us, which shut down hundreds of stores over the summer. A group of investors said in a bankruptcy court filing Tuesday that it’s scrapping an auction for Toys R Us assets. The investors believe they’ll do better by potentially reviving the toy chain, rather than selling it off for parts.  The investors said they’ll work with potential partners to develop new ideas for stores in the U.S. and other countries “that could bring back these iconic brands in a new and re-imagined way.”

Toys R Us suffocated under a staggering $5 billion debt load before liquidating its U.S. assets this year.  A leveraged buyout hobbled the company and hundreds of stores were shuttered in June to the dismay of children and numerous generations of one-time children. The seeming end of Toys R Us rippled through the toy industry and beyond. When the company closed the doors at some 800 stores, more than 30,000 people lost their jobs. Less than a month later, Mattel said it would cut more than 2,200 jobs partly because of lost sales to Toys R Us.

Economists were caught off guard that month by the slow growth in jobs, particularly retail, and some blamed the collapse of Toys R Us.
There was a net gain of 7,000 retail jobs in July, but the overall number was weighed down by the loss of approximately 32,000 jobs in the category that includes games and toys. That figure correlates with the number of Toys R Us employees that were cut loose without severance pay. Toys R Us was overwhelmed on several fronts in the months leading up to its filing for bankruptcy protection.

In addition to the debt it was saddled with by its private-equity owners, Toys R Us found itself in a battle to its seeming death with and other big toy sellers like Target and Walmart. The current asset holders did not go into detail about how the company, which maintained its headquarters in Wayne, New Jersey, would thrive in such an environment.   [Source: CBS MoneyWatch]

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