The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the FBI’s Cleveland Field Office (FO) established a working relationship to facilitate communication between the FBI and retailers, to understand national level threats and deter large-scale criminal activity impacting the retail industry. RILA convenes decision makers to collaborate and gain from each other’s experience and focuses on advancing the industry through public policy advocacy and promoting operational excellence and innovation.
Lisa LaBruno, RILA’s senior executive vice president of retail operations, and FBI Supervisory Intelligence Analyst (SIA) Brennan Long, from the Cleveland FO, discussed the development of a working relationship in 2018 to address the continued rise of organized retail crime (ORC) across the nation. ORC includes large-scale theft, credit card fraud, gift card fraud, and cargo theft, resulting in a yearly estimated loss exceeding $30 billion. Introducing the FBI to the retail industry helps all sides to identify opportunities to help dismantle ORC enterprises. RILA hosts monthly meetings with senior retail asset protection leaders and criminal investigators, providing another opportunity for the FBI to hear retailers’ persistent crime-related challenges, share insight on investigations best practices, and provide guidance on federal prosecution requirements.
RILA was instrumental in connecting the FBI with retailers in order to facilitate conversations with retail investigators about a broad range of topics including ORC networks, civil unrest, and security. As a part of RILA’s proactive approach, former Deputy Director David Bowdich was invited to speak to retail CEOs on the need for enhanced collaboration between the FBI and the retail industry. Because of these introductions and conversations, the retail industry was able to provide actionable information to the FBI on ORC and civil unrest, as well as identify and report on numerous national security threats affecting the United States. The Cleveland FO leverages the relationship with RILA and the retail industry by submitting requests for information to the retail sector to assist the FBI in identifying criminal and national security threat trends across the country.
In December 2020, LaBruno introduced Long to Ben Dugan, director of organized retail crime and corporate investigations at CVS Health. The CVS Health investigations team was tracking multiple national ORC enterprises that were fencing stolen products via online marketplaces totaling several million dollars. After an initial presentation by CVS Health to the intelligence team at Cleveland FO, Long connected Dugan to intelligence and operational squads in Houston, Detroit, Newark, and New York. The FBI continues to monitor these networks for future criminal investigations.
A recent special event held in Cleveland illustrates another example of strong FBI-private sector collaboration. The City of Cleveland hosted a three-day special event that attracted hundreds of tourists to the area. With the threat of an increase in human and sex trafficking surrounding large scale events, the Cleveland FO, in coordination with the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force and the local non-profit organization Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, produced and disseminated a human trafficking indicators flyer with a tip line prior to the event in order to collect threat information. The Cleveland FO disseminated and discussed the flyer with local DSAC partners, and coordinated with national DSAC committee members Joe Donovan and Brenda Heck, as well as RILA, to disseminate the flyer to private sector and retail partners in northern Ohio.
This ongoing, working relationship with RILA, CVS Health, and other retailers has proven mutually beneficial. Cleveland FO recognizes RILA’s unique leadership position in the industry to engage retailers, with the expectation that this collaborative effort could expand to other FBI field offices.
Note: This is a reprint from the FBI’s Domestic Security Alliance Council Newsletter. By Brennan Long, FBI Cleveland Field Office