LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced initial results from a major, and ongoing, investigation launched by the department’s newly established Organized Retail Crime (ORC) Unit operating with the Michigan State Police as the “FORCE” Team.
On Wednesday May 24, search warrants were executed on eight locations throughout Metro Detroit, leading to the arrest and arraignment of three individuals on felony charges. Travis Newby, 39, of Detroit; Derriun Williams, 23, of Detroit and Vanessa Williams, 47, of Highland Park, have been charged in their connection to a substantial interstate food stamp fraud enterprise alleged to be responsible for thefts totaling more than $4 million.
The purported food stamp fraud ring is alleged to have illegally obtained electronic benefit (EBT) card data from 8,000 cardholders mostly residing outside Michigan and primarily in California. The operation allegedly illegally reproduced EBT cards here in Michigan with this data, then used the cards for fraudulent purchases from Metro Detroit Sam’s Club stores.
“Organized Retail Crime isn’t just shoplifting,” Nessel said in a press release. “It’s a highly involved and orchestrated criminal enterprise that costs Michigan businesses and consumers millions of dollars each year. I’m incredibly proud that through our partnership with Walmart and many local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that we were able to identify and hold these bad actors accountable.”
The search and arrest warrants were executed by agents and officers from the FORCE Team, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Border Control and the Canton Police Department. The investigation began as a joint endeavor between the MDHHS OIG and Sam’s Club Global Security division, before being handed off to the Attorney General’s FORCE Team and Walmart corporate security officials.
Search warrants executed on May 24 resulted in substantial material seizures related to the alleged crime and additional potential suspects. Due to the ongoing nature and large scale of the investigation, the Department expects more defendants to be named as the investigation continues.
“It is collaborations like this that benefit all Michiganders by helping ensure that funds for public assistance programs are available to the residents who truly need them and that taxpayer dollars are spent on its intended purpose,” said Alan Kimichik, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services inspector general.
“Walmart is proud to have assisted in the investigation with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and Michigan State Police that led to these arrests,” Claire Rushton, senior director of Walmart Global Investigations, said. “Fraud is a problem impacting the retail industry, and it’s only through collaborative efforts like this with states, communities and law enforcement that the issue can be addressed holistically. We will continue to work with the authorities in this ongoing criminal investigation.”
The FORCE Team, and the Organized Retail Crime Unit, was established in January by the attorney general to target criminal organizations that steal products from retailers to repackage and sell for a profit. Two assistant attorneys general serve the unit full time, working with special agents within the Department of Attorney General and Michigan State Police detectives to investigate and prosecute these crimes. This is a first-in-the-nation unit, unique in the 50 states as being the only such unit with embedded dedicated staff from the Department of Attorney General.
“I anticipate continued success as a result of our partnership with businesses and local law enforcement in our efforts to confront these criminal enterprises head on, and in turn save our businesses and residents money,” Nessel said.
Michigan’s ORC Unit is currently working with seven other retailers on multiple open investigations, each centered around millions of dollars of retail fraud and theft. The ORC Unit and FORCE Team operate out of the Michigan State Police Department and is dedicated to working collaboratively with retailers and local law enforcement agencies to combat this organized crime. Local law enforcement agencies or retailers with evidence of organized retail fraud are encouraged to email the FORCE team.