For retailers, a sad saga of security gaps

Man made a living of defrauding retailers, avoiding security


Jan. 13--Anthony Fussell was a human-resource manager's dream come true. Or so it seemed. He was a well-spoken Morgan State University grad, a former Marine Corps reservist with a solid resume who convinced interviewers at ShopRite, Kmart, Value City, Toys R Us and Ross Dress for Less that he had the retail business down cold.

Police say Fussell also turned out to be an expert at slipping through retailing's often porous security systems.

Detectives in Pennsylvania and New Jersey allege that the 35-year-old Gloucester County man stole as much as $220,000 from eight companies by getting hired as a store manager, working for a few days or weeks, then disappearing with cash receipts.

If law enforcement is right, a guy who never attended Morgan State, received a less-than-honorable discharge from the Marines, and was wanted on a fugitive warrant repeatedly survived background checks to get jobs.

"He sounds like a Frank Abagnale," said Richard C. Hollinger, a professor of criminology at the University of Florida, referring to the infamous con artist and subject of the movie Catch Me If You Can.

Police say Fussell, who had just landed another job when arrested last month, was involved in eight thefts between December 2004 and November 2007, allegedly making off with $5,000 to more than $41,000. Charges have been brought in three of the cases and are pending in the other five, police say. Police also are investigating Fussell in three additional cases in New Jersey, New York and Georgia.

Attempts to reach Fussell for comment in the Camden County jail were unsuccessful. Camden County public defender Efrain Nieves, assigned to Fussell, would not comment on the case.

Fussell used his own name and Social Security number when applying for jobs, but for references provided telephone numbers to his own throwaway cell phones, police say. He used old addresses. He sought management jobs at retail companies with a high volume of cash transactions, and picked busy holiday seasons or expansion periods when stores were less likely to complete background checks before putting new employees on the floor, according to police.

And he was a great interview.

"One of the best interviews I ever had," said Jason Ravitz, vice president at ShopRite in Cherry Hill, where Fussell, an assistant manager who passed the store's assessment test, is accused of taking $23,000 from the safe on Aug. 31.

Police say Fussell typically wasted no time stealing the cash once he got the keys or combinations.

At a Dollar General store in Philadelphia, "he was only there for three or four days," said Philadelphia Detective Patrick Murray, who is investigating the loss of $8,700 on Nov. 12. Charges are pending Fussell's extradition from New Jersey, he said.

U.S. marshals picked up Fussell on Dec. 27 at a Hess gas station on Route 38 in Mount Holly, where he was training as an assistant manager.

"He was pretty shocked," said John Hunsinger, who is with the U.S. Marshal's Service New York/New Jersey Fugitive Task Force. "When I had him in the car, he said he knew sooner or later he would get caught." The fugitive warrant was issued for retail thefts in Pennsylvania.

Cherry Hill Police Detective Deborah Kappler alerted the U.S. marshals to help track Fussell down.

Fussell, originally from Maryland, listed an Owings Mills address on many of his applications.

"That resume can be 100 percent false," Cherry Hill Police Lt. William J. Kushina Jr. said.

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