Memphis police arrested Jernell Bonds Saturday and charged the 21-year-old with aggravated robbery, aggravated assault and attempted first-degree murder after he confessed to stealing 10 pairs of Nike shoes from the city’s Piecez Couture Fashion boutique, according to an affidavit.
Victim Arvlon McKinney told the Memphis Police Department (MPD) that he was unlocking the store when a silver Nissan Altima with a taped rear passenger side window pulled up near the location. Court documents show one of two men in the vehicle brandished a handgun and told the victim, “Give me everything” after seeing what kind of merchandise the store sold. The other suspect, who was wearing white and red “Nike Jordan’s,” according to court documents, grabbed “approximately” 10 pairs of Nikes and put the stolen goods in the vehicle.
Police said McKinney walked outside the boutique as the suspects were fleeing, prompting the duo to open fire at him. Bullets struck within five feet of where Robert Bailey, owner of the business next door, took cover when gunshots rang out.
After leaving in the vehicle with the second suspect, Bonds came back to the shooting scene on foot and officers began questioning him before placing him under arrest. The second suspect, identified as Travarus Bonds, was being treated for a wound after being struck in the leg, and was transported to a local hospital for medical treatment, though it wasn’t immediately clear if he was arrested or charged. A records search in connection with Saturday’s crime didn’t produce any result.
Jernell Bonds is expected to appear in court on Monday. His bond is set at $60,000.
Nike sneakers appear to be the common theme throughout the trail of Memphis robberies. In April, nine suspects stole Nike shoes from an unattended boxcar near the footwear giant’s local distribution center nearby. Three men were arrested in connection with the crime charged with burglary, theft of property ranging from $60,000 to $250,000 and evading arrest.
And in December 2021, thieves stole from multiple Memphis-area Hibbett Sports/City Gear stores as well as a DHL warehouse. A warehouse employee behind the DHL theft stole up to $60,000 worth of Nike products.
Homeland Security, anti-money laundering group join forces
In the wake of the recent surge in crimes against retail, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) formed a partnership and published a report to help combat organized retail crime.
The report, called “Detecting and Reporting the Illicit Financial Flows Tied to Organized Theft Groups and Organized Retail Crime,” highlights red flags associated with organized theft groups, including structured deposits and withdrawals and large purchases of stored-value cards.
“Organized retail crime is leading to more brazen, more violent attacks in retail stores throughout the country and many of the criminal rings orchestrating these thefts are also involved in other serious criminal activity,” HSI’s acting executive associate director Steve Francis said. “Tackling this growing threat is important to the safety of store employees, customers, and communities across the country.”
The report serves as a guide for law enforcement investigators and anti-financial crime professionals, outlining how organized theft groups steal and resell retail goods through online marketplaces and front companies and launder illicit profits through the U.S. financial system and trade-based money laundering schemes.
“Large-scale retail theft and the money laundering that enables it are exactly the sort of illicit activities that law enforcement, financial institutions, and other stakeholders can more effectively fight together through public-private partnerships,” ACAMS CEO Scott Liles said in a statement. “This guide is not just a roadmap for criminal investigators and AFC professionals seeking to better fight organized retail crime—it is also a rallying call for greater collaboration on dismantling these dangerous criminal syndicates.”
According to data from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the Buy Safe America Coalition cited in the report, an estimated $68.9 billion worth of products was stolen from retailers in 2019.
But the money losses aren’t the only concern, with safety becoming a pressing issue for retail workers. In a survey from RILA and Buy Safe America, nearly 76 percent of respondents said that a criminal has threatened the use of a weapon against an associate, and 40 percent of asset protection managers said that an organized retail criminal has used a weapon to harm an associate.
The report recommends law enforcement agencies, retailers, online marketplaces and financial institutions collaborate in public-private partnerships to facilitate information sharing and coordinate actions that help investigators better combat organized retail crime.
Banks and other institutions can also consider enhancing anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing compliance programs to detect and report activity linked to organized retail crime, the report says.
“Organized retail theft is a low-risk, high-reward crime that generates nearly $70 billion in the United States alone, and much of that sum is routed into financial institutions under the guise of legitimate sales made through online marketplaces,” said the report’s co-author, Lauren Kohr, senior director of anti-money laundering in the Americas, ACAMS. “For this reason, it is critical that banks and other financial institutions are not only aware of the scale of the problem but also actively work to identify and report related suspicious activity.”
The report breaks down the type of individuals that operate in these crime rings, which are much more sophisticated than traditional shoplifters.
Organized theft groups that engage in large-scale thefts often rely on teams of “boosters” who steal goods from major retail stores, as well as “cleaners” who disguise the origins of stolen merchandise. The “fencers” may all appear to be running legitimate businesses, since they resell products through brick-and-mortar storefronts and major e-commerce websites. Finally, the professional money launderers involved play the key role of funneling the illicit profits to the criminals orchestrating schemes.
The report also highlighted recent investigations into schemes exploiting undocumented trafficked migrants who are forced to become boosters for a crime ring. These individuals steal goods to pay back the “coyotes” who smuggle them across international borders.
Additional reporting by Jessica Binns.