The Scottsdale Police Department, working with fraud investigators from eBay, Home Depot, Walmart and federal authorities, arrested 36 suspects involved in a major retail theft syndicate that returned stolen merchandise to retailers and then auctioned the gift cards on eBay, according to a Feb. 25 news release from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. The case has uncovered more than $1.2 million in proceeds from the crime, authorities said.
The investigation began in April 2010 after an eBay employee noticed suspicious activity on a user account linked to Wayne Clifford Bahlman, whom authorities describe as a ringleader of the theft organization. The account involved numerous auctions of merchandise credit cards through eBay.
At the same time, Home Depot loss prevention personnel were looking into Bahlman because of suspicious returns and alleged shoplifting activity.
After months of investigation involving a task force that included members of the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Postal Authority, police discovered an operation that allegedly recruited and paid individuals to steal objects from Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart. These items were then returned for store credit by various individuals, often using stolen identities. The store credit cards were turned over to Bahlman to sell on eBay.
In another incident, a group of suspects connected to Bahlman were involved in a charity, called Angel Tree Foundation, that purchases new toys for children as Christmas gifts. Unbeknown to the charity, police said, the individuals were returning the new toys to Walmart and bringing the store credit cards to Bahlman.
Bahlman and 35 others were indicted by a grand jury and charged with 50 felony counts, including participation in a criminal syndicate, organized retail theft, fraudulent schemes and artifices, trafficking in stolen property and forgery.