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Traveling toy thief gets 15 months in prison

Julia Bogdanov of Northbrook, admitted helping her parents on a crime spree. | Photo courtesy of the Village of Skokie/distributed by the Associated Press

A Northbrook woman who joined her parents on a cross-country crime spree targeting toy stores was sentenced to 15 months in prison Thursday.

Julia Bogdanov, along with Branko and Lela Bogdanov (also known as “Maca Moa”), has admitted targeting the stores and then selling the goods online. The feds say the items brought $4.2 million on eBay.

Branko Bogdanov is accused of choking a store employee during their crime spree. | File photo
Branko Bogdanov is accused of choking a store employee during their crime spree. | File photo

The three Bogdanovs were arrested in March 2014 by the U.S. Secret Service, which teamed up with investigators from Toys “R” Us, eBay and Barnes & Noble to nab the family. A prosecutor has said authorities found $74,698 in merchandise in the family’s tony Northbrook home.

Julia Bogdanov, who is pregnant and due in April, faced up to five years in prison. Her attorney, Scott Frankel, asked the judge for probation. But U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood granted a federal prosecutor’s request for the 15-month sentence.

“She’s been committing crimes sine the 1990s,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Havey said.

Julia Bogdanov is not required to begin serving her sentence until Sept. 12. After the judge handed down the punishment, Julia Bogdanov reminded the judge that “I’m a first-time mom. This is my first baby.”

Frankel argued in a court filing that Julia Bogdanov, 36, grew up the oldest of five children in a traditional household with rigid expectations. He said her job was to cook, clean, help her mother and take care of the younger children. She was also expected to travel with her parents.

“She did not have any real choice or ability to refuse participation in the trip,” Frankel wrote. “Yes, she is an adult. Yes, she is responsible for her own actions. But she was under the enormous pressure and expectations her family placed upon her. An unfortunate fact of Julia’s life is that even as an adult she remained emotionally and financially dependent on her parents.”

Julia Bogdanov helped her parents flee an Oklahoma Barnes & Noble after an alarm began to wail. At another Barnes & Noble — this time in Maryland — a store detective had fingered Branko and Lela Bogdanov as thieves and tried to stop them from taking up to 10 mini-American Girl dolls possibly stuffed under Lela’s skirt. But Julia ran interference and told the detective her mother was a cancer patient — and Branko Bogdanov choked a store detective, records show.

Even as she pleaded guilty last fall, Julia Bogdanov disputed whether some of the items found in the family’s home were stolen, including a Louis Vuitton belt, a camera and 50 bags of Starbucks coffee. And in spite of the crime she pleaded guilty to, she continues to work in retail as a department store cosmetics counter sales associate. She told the judge Thursday she plans to start her own cleaning business.

None of the ethnic Romani immigrants from the former Yugoslavia was a stranger to law enforcement when they were arrested in 2014. Their latest spree saw them bounce through Louisiana, Tennessee, Maryland, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas. Authorities accused them of stuffing Legos, Furbys, and baby items into a blue lining under Lela Bogdanov’s black skirt.

Investigators watched as the Bogdanovs left a Toys “R” Us in New Orleans. They said a gust of wind blew up the dress and they could see a box in the lining underneath.

The case against the family was built around the cooperation of an informant who told prosecutors he acted as the Bogdanovs’ fence and turned over stolen goods he says he bought from them.

Wood asked Thursday for assurances from Julia Bogdanov that she won’t return to a life of crime. Julia Bogdanov shot back: “After what I’ve been through?”

“Are you kidding me?” she said.

But as the judge handed down the sentence, she questioned Julia Bogdanov’s remorse.

“I can’t help but feel that Ms. Bogdanov is not so much sorry for what she did, but sorry that she got caught,” Wood said.