36 Involved in retail crime syndicate facing multiple charges

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By Natalie Flanzer By Natalie Flanzer

PHOENIX - The Scottsdale Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office along with fraud investigators from eBay, Home Depot and Walmart helped shut down a major retail crime syndicate.

More than 30 individuals have been arrested and indicted for the alleged involvement in a major organized retail theft syndicate.

The investigation began in April 2010 and uncovered an elaborate gift card scams, identity theft and retail theft from the Angel Tree holiday toy program for kids.

The investigation has uncovered over $1.2 million in proceeds from these crimes.

Back in April the Scottsdale Police Computer Fraud detectives were contact by eBay security regarding suspicious activity on a user account. That account was later linked to Wayne Clifford Bahlman who was involved in auctions of gift cards through eBay.

Around the same time Bahlman was linked to a Home Depot shoplifting and suspicious returns investigation.

Months of further investigation revealed Bahlman had a network of associates that would recruit people to shoplift items from retail stores and then return the items for store credit cards.

Bahlman then sold the cards on eBay.

Three suspects, Mary Booker, Douglas Booker and Michael Brandenbery, were seen stealing gifts that were purchased for an Angel Tree inside Walmart. They were later observed returning those items at another Walmart location.

Investigators discovered the three suspects actually worked for the Angel Tree Foundation and were assigned to pick up gifts from the store, but instead of dropping the toys at the foundation they would return the toys for profit being funneled back to Bahlman.

A grand jury has indicated Bahlman and 35 others, alleging more than 50 felony counts including participation in a criminal syndicate, organized retail theft, fraudulent schemes and artifices, trafficking in stolen property and forgery.

The investigation was led by the newly created Arizona Electronic Crimes Task Force.