Well-known sneaker retailer James Whitner has been named in a complaint alleging an international money laundering scheme.
A civil forfeiture complaint filed in a North Carolina district court on Friday said that Whitner, who owns shops such as A Ma Maniére and Social Status, was involved in a “trade-based money laundering network” in which he allegedly helped move millions of dollars in illegal funds under the guise of reselling footwear and apparel.
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Whitner has not been charged criminally.
According to the complaint, Whitner sold millions of dollars worth of sneakers to a Chinese national, who then resold the products in China and elsewhere. Then, a broker in China would direct Chinese money couriers to collect large sums of cash made from “illegal activity” including, potentially, prostitution. This cash then went to Whitner, the filing said.
These illicit transactions occurred between Nov. 2017 and April 2022 and totaled more than $32 million, the complaint said. The forfeiture totals about $1,199,530, which was seized in August of 2021 from the residence of Antwain Freeman, Whitner’s close friend, in North Bergen, New Jersey.
“Although the business was conducted under the auspices of trade in apparel, in reality, the Money Transmitting Business collected and moved cash from illegal activity, which Freeman and then Whitner ultimately introduced into the banking system,” read the complaint, which was signed by an IRS criminal investigator.
In a statement on social media, the Whitaker Group said the allegations are “unfounded, unrelated to our business or this community and unjustified.” The group stated that it has cooperated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina (USAO) and has complied with “all tax obligations annually.”
According to the complaint, Whitner resold shoes and apparel that were “produced by an Oregon-based manufacturer” that did not allow for these products to be resold to another distributor or broker or outside the U.S. Nike, which is based in Oregon and has previously partnered with Whitner, did not immediately return a request for comment.
“We disagree with the USAO’s allegations concerning our business and remain appreciative of the extraordinary support our vendor partners have shown and continue to show throughout this process,” Whitaker Group’s statement read. “Our success has made us an easy target caught in the middle of a US financial and regulatory war with China of which we have no part in.”
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