For retailers, a sad saga of security gaps

Man made a living of defrauding retailers, avoiding security


Industry experts say retail theft is a growing problem, with 46 percent of it involving insiders, according to one survey.

"Thankfully, these are rare," Hollinger said of larger thefts. "Most criminals don't have those skills."

Hollinger said flaws in store and law enforcement practices could be discerned and exploited.

Companies urgently needing employees on the sales floor may not wait until background checks are complete. The cost may discourage detailed background checks.

On weekends, fewer armored-car pickups may leave cash to accumulate in an office safe, and missing money may not be discovered until a bank notices a discrepancy on a Monday, leaving more time for escape. The thefts that Fussell is accused of committing usually were timed around weekends.

Law enforcement makes violent crime and homeland security a priority. Because Fussell had no court record for theft, and because the thefts happened in numerous jurisdictions, tracking his job or any criminal information was difficult.

"He is pretty slick. He'd just go in, take the job and walk away with the money," said Detective Gregory Kneiss of Middletown Township, Bucks County, where Fussell is accused of stealing more than $5,000 from the Toys R Us in Langhorne.

The store's surveillance system was disabled and cash was taken from the safe July 9, 2006, after Fussell had worked there for about a week.

That day, police documents say, Fussell arrived before the store opened. Right after other employees showed up, he said he had to return home and would be back in an hour. He wasn't.

Store employees needed a locksmith to open the safe. They discovered the theft and cords cut on two security cameras.

The cost of a thorough preemployment background check for a company with hundreds of stores nationally can be prohibitive in an industry noted for high employee turnover, said Walter Palmer, a retail security expert.

New efforts are under way. Retailer theft reports to any police agency are now shared on a database run by the FBI.

There are also informal arrangements between police agencies. "We have a networking system that involves most retail between New York and Richmond, Va.," said Detective David Hill of Montgomery County, Md. Hill is one of the few investigators in the country who specialize in retail theft and retail fraud.

The industry is also using newer technology to combat crime. Online applications will one day link to databases, surveillance technology improvements, security tags on merchandise, and software that allows businesses to analyze vulnerabilities in store practices.

Many of the newer security measures are in place at the ShopRite in Cherry Hill, yet the $23,000 still was stolen.

The theft hit his company hard -- financially and emotionally -- said Ravitz, the vice president. Longtime employees of the ShopRite -- family owned and operated since 1968 -- felt it was like someone had stolen from them, he said.

"Bottom line," said Ravitz, "he got caught."

------

Missing Money

Police in two states allege that Anthony Fussell committed these thefts:

On Dec. 18, 2004, $35,479.13 was taken from a Value City safe in Ocean Township, N.J., where he was assistant manager.

On July 11, 2005, $41,443.75 was missing from a Ross Dress for Less in Philadelphia, where he was a store manager.

On Dec. 5, 2005, at the T.J. Maxx in Abington, $22,797.95 was missing from the safe after Fussell closed the store.

On March 27, 2006, $16,761 was missing from the cash deposits in the safe at the A.C. Moore in Mount Laurel, where Fussell worked.

On July 9, 2006, more than $5,000 was taken from the Toys R Us in Langhorne, where Fussell had been working for one week as a manager.