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Three members of a suburban Chicago family are accused of stealing $7 million in merchandise during a decade-long “shopping odyssey” and later selling the items on eBay.
Branko Bogdanov, 58; his wife Lela Bogdanov, 52; and their daughter Julia Bogdanov, 34, were arrested by Secret Service agents Tuesday afternoon at a home on Weller Lane in suburban Northbrook, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
The trio is accused in a recent string of thefts that began on Feb. 17 in Oklahoma, continued two days later at malls in Texas and wound through Louisiana Feb. 20. But officials allege the three are connected to similar instances that have occurred over the last 10 years, and have sold stolen property on eBay for a combined total of $4.2 million.
According to the complaint, loss prevention executives at Barnes and Noble, Inc. and Toys R Us, Inc. recently told Secret Service agents that their stores were experiencing a huge loss in merchandise, including American Girl dolls, Furby robotic toys, Lego blocks, baby monitors and baby carriers.
The retail executives worked with eBay and found that a particular account sold large quantities of the stolen items, matching the quantities reported missing from the stores. Officials traced the account to a person living in a Chicago suburb.
The owner of the account, who then cooperated with law enforcement, had sold $3.4 million in merchandise according to the complaint, with an estimated retail value of $6 million, which he claims to have purchased from a man named “Franko Kalath” over the last 10 years.
Officials learned that “Franko Kalath” was an alias for Branko Bogdanov and learned that the members of the Bogdanov family shared a single PayPal account.
The complaint shows thefts occurred between October and December 2012 at Barnes and Noble, Toys R Us and other retailers in Pikesville, Md., Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Murfreesboro, Tenn., where either telephone records, video surveillance or both allegedly show the Bogdanovs at or near at the time and date of specific retail thefts.
Surveillance footage of the most recent thefts shows the family at several stores at malls in Woodlands, Tex. Surveillance footage also captured the family the following day in Louisiana, where additional merchandise was stolen at stores in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
The complaint describes repeated instances of Lela Bogdanov wearing a long black skirt that appeared larger and fuller when she exited various retail stores than when she entered. The dress, which was seized shortly after she was arrested, has a blue lining capable of containing multiple rectangular objects, and was allegedly used to cart hidden merchandise from stores, officials said.
At times, surveillance footage showed items protruding from the skirt when she exited stores, often accompanied by various diversions instigated by one of more of the family members, according to the complaint.
The trio arrived back in Northbrook Feb. 21. A few days later, the criminal informant received messages from “Franko Kalath” with photos showing an array of merchandise that was available for sale, officials said.
They were each charged with interstate transportation of stolen property and are expected to appear in bond court Wednesday.
Interstate transportation of stolen property carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and restitution is mandatory.