Renowned sneaker retailer James Whitner, the owner of popular shops like A Ma Maniére and Social Status, finds himself at the center of a civil forfeiture complaint alleging involvement in an international money laundering scheme. While Whitner has not faced criminal charges, the complaint filed in a North Carolina district court unveils a complex web of financial activities, claiming that he played a key role in a "trade-based money laundering network."
The complaint asserts that between November 2017 and April 2022, Whitner orchestrated the sale of millions of dollars worth of sneakers to a Chinese national. The products were then resold in China and other locations. Subsequently, a broker in China allegedly directed money couriers to collect substantial sums of cash, generated from activities like prostitution, which were then funneled back to Whitner.
Totaling over $32 million, these illicit transactions prompted a civil forfeiture action, resulting in the seizure of approximately $1,199,530 in August 2021 from the residence of Antwain Freeman, a close friend of Whitner, located in North Bergen, New Jersey.
The complaint, signed by an IRS criminal investigator, contends that despite appearing as a legitimate trade in apparel, the business conducted by Whitner's Money Transmitting Business was, in reality, moving cash derived from illegal activities into the banking system.
In response to the allegations, the Whitaker Group, Whitner's organization, took to social media to issue a statement vehemently denying any wrongdoing. The statement emphasized that the accusations are "unfounded, unrelated to our business or this community, and unjustified." The group further asserted its cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina (USAO) and emphasized compliance with all tax obligations annually.
The complaint highlights that Whitner's resale of shoes and apparel, produced by an Oregon-based manufacturer, may have violated resale restrictions set by the manufacturer. Notably, Nike, based in Oregon and having previously partnered with Whitner, has not immediately commented on the situation.
The Whitaker Group's statement concludes with a firm disagreement with the USAO's allegations, portraying the situation as the company being caught in the crossfire of a financial and regulatory conflict between the U.S. and China. Despite the challenges, the statement expresses gratitude for the ongoing support from vendor partners and underscores the group's commitment to navigating through this challenging period.