Family traveled country to steal millions in toys to sell on eBay, feds say

Written By BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter Posted: 03/05/2014, 06:30pm
Array Northbrook home where family members were arrested by the FBI for shoplifting that resulted in more than $7 million in stolen property Wednesday afternoon 3-5-14. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

The Bogdanov family had a minivan, a magic skirt and a plan, the feds say.

No toy store in America was safe.

Driving from town to town, Northbrook dad Branko Bogdanov, 58, mom Lela Bogdanov, 52, and daughter Julia Bogdanov, 34, stole from the shelves of stores in at least six states in the last five months, according to a federal complaint announced Wednesday.

Ten American Girl dolls here; a couple of boxes of Lego bricks, a Furby robotic toy and a children’s laptop there; it all ended up in Lela Bogdanov’s specially-constructed long black skirt, which had secret compartments stitched in for shoplifted loot, the feds say.

If it sounds like petty crime, it wasn’t.

Added together, the toys and other goods that the Bogdanovs and their fence sold on eBay over the last decade fetched more than $4.2 million, court papers state.

And their thieving sprees were allegedly enough to bankroll the light-fingered family’s $1.3 million home on Weller Lane in tony north suburban Northbrook.

All three Bogdanovs were arrested there Tuesday by the U.S. Secret Service, which teamed up with investigators from Toys “R” Us, eBay and Barnes & Noble to nab the family.

Shuffling together in leg chains and orange prison jumpsuits, the Bogdanovs had little to say for themselves when they appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason in a downtown courtroom Wednesday.

“I understand,” a weeping, heavily accented Lela Bogdanov said as her rights were explained to her through an interpreter.

Prosecutors said the family — ethnic Romani immigrants from the former Yugoslavia — face up to 10 years in prison if convicted and are a flight risk, meaning they’ll all stay locked up until at least Monday.

None of them is strangers to law enforcement. Branko Bogdanov has been arrested for theft, shoplifting, handling stolen goods and burglary in Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Colorado during a criminal career that stretches back to the 1970s, public records show.

Lela Bogdanov has also previously been incarcerated in Pennsylvania, while their bleach-blonde daughter was once pinched in Florida.

But their latest alleged spree began in the holiday shopping season and saw them bounce through Louisiana, Tennessee, Maryland, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas in an epic road trip that had the makings of a madcap family movie, court papers suggest.

During an alleged theft of 10 mini American Girl dolls from a Barnes & Noble in Pikesville, Maryland, on Nov. 22, they were nearly caught, but escaped after Branko Bogdanov choked a store detective, the court papers state.

Before the family fled in their Honda Odyssey minivan, Julia Bogdanov allegedly told the store detective that her mother has cancer — a claim Lela Bogdanov repeated in court Wednesday.

It was one of several close run-ins. In Houston, police let the family go last month after a traffic stop on a day in which they’d allegedly stolen $13,000 worth of loot — not just toys, but also eight bags of coffee from Starbucks, and items from an Apple store, Sephora cosmetics, the Baby Store and a Dillard’s department store.

And in Mississippi, they escaped with only a traffic citation from a highway patrol officer after Branko Bogdanov “became belligerent” and began “tearing trash bags” that the feds allege were full of stolen goods.

Even when Branko Bogdanov was arrested closer to home in November, at a Walmart in Palatine, he was charged only with a misdemeanor, allegedly allowing his family’s sprees to continue.

But the federal case may be harder to beat.

Built around the cooperation of a 70-year-old informant, who told prosecutors he acted as the Bogdanovs fence and turned over stolen goods he says he bought from them, the case includes several store security videos seized by the feds that allegedly show the family sneaking toys into Lela’s skirt.

Secret Service agents were also watching from a parking lot during an alleged shoplifting incidents at a Toys “R” Us in Baton Rouge, La., where, according to court papers, they “observed that Lela Bogdanov’s stomach appeared more square or rectangular than usual.”

Though the case has several comic aspects, Chicago’s top Secret Service agent, Frank Benedetto, said it is important because “if this type of crime continues unchecked, the cost is passed from the retailer to the shopper.”

The Bogdanovs’ son, who declined to give his name and who has not been charged with any crime, was less talkative following his family’s court appearance.

“Don’t speak English,” he said. “God bless the universe.”

Contributing: Jon Seidel

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