WHO’S RIPPING OFF THE STORE?

It was 10 o’clock;-the morning of August 6, 1985. Dallas police investigator Bill Sanders was “fanny deep in paperwork” when the phone rang on hisdesk. It was Gary Manson, corporate, security director at Neiman-Marcus,5 calling to report a “serious internal loss problem’’ that Manson said had cost| The Store more than $531,000 worth of women’s designer clothing during the first eight months of the year.

An internal investigation had homed in on a single suspect: Angela Clark King, a Neiman-Marcus “personals shopper.” King, 30, was one of eight trusted employees catering to the whims of customers who pay a special fee to belong to the store’s exclusive Silver Key club. Manson told Sanders that Neiman-Marcus had evidence of a bizarre ’’steal-by-order” ring operating out of a swank house in University Park. The security director accused the occupant of the elegant home, 41-year-old Bourgett Levy (not a Neiman’s employee), of. fencing the stolen de-signer clothes at deep discounts to her well-to-do friends and neighbors.

The unusual case and its half-million-dollar price tag got the attention of Sanders, a slender, laid-back police veteran whose $75 gray.suits and matching shock of prematurely silver hair make him a walking description of a “plainclothes detective.” Sanders summoned his boss, Lt John Dagen, a burly ex-construction worker with close-cropped, sandy hair and a brief, matter-of-fact, mustache. By nightfall, the two officers-had secured warrants that would allow them to search both the Levy. home and the King residence. A plan was laid to catch the suspects red-handed with a $30,000-plus shipment King allegedly had stolen that day. University Park police were notified and a rendezvous was set for Heide Levy’s house the following morning.

It was already hot at 9 a.m. the next day, With temperatures marching steadily into the 90s as the sprinklers whirred in a desperate battle against the Texas sun, keeping the manicured lawns and tree-shacfed landscaping lush and cool and quiet along Southwestern Boulevard. It was typical Park Cities scene on a typical summer workday house-wives in Mexican dresses applying makeup before Volvoing their children to soccer camp, middle-aged Mexican gardeners arriving in battered pickup trucks with lawn mowers in the back.

The police pulled up in three unmarked cars, the kind of anonymous brown and beige 82 Plymouth Furies any criminal type can spot a mile away. Eight police officers- Sanders, Dagen, four other Dallas detectives and a pair of Universiry Park plainclothes-men-surrounded the corner house, one car covering the back driveway the other two cars coasting to ,the curb in front of the gracious two-story Austih-stpne house.

Sanders strode purposefully up the front walk between giant twin shade’ trees, past ill-kept grass and tangled ground cover in , striking contrast to the carefully barbered esplanades of Levy’s neighbors. He stepped up on the porch, framed by wrought-irbn columns and a matching balustrade above, and knocked.

Heide Levy, a medium-set German wom-an with messy indeterminately blonde hair opened the door as far as the chain would allow. Sanders showed his badge and ex-plained why he was there Levy immediately pushed the door shut, removed the chain and invited the officers inside The woman ushered the police officers into a hallway and flung open the doors of a large closet. Inside were about 30 pricey outfits, all sporting famous labels and Neiman-Marcus price tags. Sanders recalls turning to Levy and saying “We need to get the rest of them, Where are the rest?” Levy allegedly replied, “That’s all. There’s not any more.”

As detectives upstairs began calling out their discoveries, Heide Levy began to construct her defense: She didn’t know the clothes were stolen. She believed that , Angela King had gotten them from a rich socialite whose husband refused to give his wife spending money but allowed her an open charge account at Neiman’s. According to Levy, this “rich lady” solved her cash flow crunch by purchasing costly garb on her Credit card and giving the goods to King, who in turn gave them to Levy, who sold them out of her home to affluent ladies. “I had a pretty good clientele,” Levy boasted.

In the den, Lt. Dagen discovered a black bound address book containing dozens of women’s names, phone numbers and sizes for dresses, shoes and other apparel-a directory Neiman-Marcus would later use to track down some of the stolen clothing Police also found a large, buff-colored spiral notebook with a sheet of carbon between the neatly inscribed pages. “Angela’s shopping list,” says Sanders.

According to police accounts, here’s how the scheme worked: Levy would advertise among her friends and neighbors “through word of mouth” that she could sell high-fashion garments from Neiman-Marcus-all brand new, with price tags and labels intact-for 50 percent off retail. The customers in Levy’s little black book would go to the store or look through a catalog and select the exact designer, price, size and color of the items they desired. Then they would call Heide Levy and place their order.

Police say Levy logged the orders into her notebook, then gave a copy of the list to King, who delivered shipments of clothes to Levy’s house about twice each week. Levy then called all the customers whose orders Angela had managed to obtain. Within 24 hours the women would arrive at the Levy house to try on their new finery in her tastefully furnished den. In cash or by check, the shoppers would pay Levy 50 percent of the clothes’ retail value; Levy kept half of the money in; an envelope for King, who was paid 25 percent of each item’s retail value.

Levy kept stringent records, Grossing off each item as it was sold and Writing “Paid” next to the entry. Atigie initialed the book to acknowledge receipt of her cash Actually, the, partners kept two matching, spiral notebooks, with the name “Angle” written in red ink on one and “Heide written on its mate. Inside, ruled pages were filled with identical lists, of hundreds of designer names and the 25 percent cut due to Angle King: Ralph Lauren sweater, blue; $40. Ferragamo skirt red- $50 Escada skirt, gray $40. The back page of Levy’s notebook was reserved for her “accounts receivable” Some buyers were listed by full names while others appeared only as first names or initials. Entries in the spiral notebook were later matched by officers with $1,200 cash they found in Levy’s home in an envelope marked “Angela King.”

The upstairs search of the Levy home netted police 42 additional items of designer clothing. A closet under the stairs was stuffed with a dozen Neiman-.Mafcus garment bags, the kind personal shoppers use to transport the chi-chi wares of Nipon, Ungaro and Adolfo to the estates of the Dallas elite. Ironically, the presence of Neiman-Marcus price tags on all the clothes-a boon to the sales effort, no doubt-was the very evidence that police needed to secure the women’s arrests. “Had they removed the price tags, there’s no way we could have proved anything,” Sanders says. “Wecould have found a stack of price tags in the middle of the floor and still not have been able to do anything.”

In all, police found $23,843.50 worth of tagged items in Levy’s home; she volunteered another $7,650 in clothing without Neiman-Marcus tags, which added up to a total of $31,493.50. Officers had to call for a police truck to pick up the garment bags crammed with the creations of top designers like Anne Klein, Carlos Falchi and Liz Claiborne. “We found dresses valued at up to $4,300 apiece,” Sanders said later, shaking his head in disbelief over a fat file of yellow legal sheets listing $200 blouses, $1,600 dresses and $50 belts.

From the minute police left the Levy house, telephones buzzed across North Dallas and the Park Cities. Word spread like wildfire through the community. Before it was over, police would get hundreds of unusual and amusing phone calls from Levy’s former customers, ranging from the contrite and embarrassed to the outraged and self-righteous. “People knew we’d looked at that little book and that we had their names,” Dagen says.

Sanders got one call from an attorney who represented a woman who had bought a $1,200 designer dress for $600 from Levy. He wanted to know what action police planned to take against those who had bought the stolen clothes. “Who’s your client?” Sanders asked the lawyer. “Uh, I really can’t say,” the attorney replied. “But she wants to buy the dress. I’ve got $600 cash ” right here to pay for the other half of. the dress. I’ll be right over to pick it up.”

“But how would that work out?” Sanders-aiked! “After all, Levy’s got the other $600 Even if this lady coughs up another $600,.’ Neiman’s is still out 600 bucks on the deal Doesn’t this lady owe,the store the full $1,200 for the dress?”

’’But that would mean my client would pay $1,800 for a $1,200 dress,” the lawyer protested. “That’s just not right.”

“Call Neiman’s,” Sanders snapped. “I’m a cop, not a clothing salesman.”



THE HOUSE WHERE Angela King lives on West Amherst Avenue; just a drive across the Tollway from Heide Levy’s home, is a modest affair by Park Cities standards, a homey one-story cottage of pale pink brick. The King driveway hosts a burgundy Chevrolet Monte Carlo and a little white plastic horse with bright red wheels, abandoned to graze for himself in the neatly mowed St. Augustine grass. Not a showplace home, but a well-kept one, a house with three paper Halloween pumpkins Scotch-taped above assorted ghosts and goblins in the windows. and a homemade witch in a crowned hat; tacked to the door. A chain link fence encloses a scattered menagerie of toys beneath the huge trees that shade the backyard.

Angela Clark King was born 30 years ago in the small East Texas town of Gilmer. The Yam Capital of the World. Her parents were divorced when she was an infant, her upbringing left to a grandmother and a Mormon aunt. Angie’s father, a horse trainer she knew only after she had become an adult, never touched his daughter’s isolated life in Gilmer. But during the summers, Angie would visit her mother in Dallas. And once, when her mom married a man from Chica-. go, Angie left Texas for a vacation at her; stepfather’s Minnesota lodge.

Angie’s high school yearbook describes a popular big fish in a secure small-town pond: National Honor Society, Student Council, cheerleader. When Angie Clark left her hometown at age 18 and headed for Kilgore, 30 minutes south on the other side of Tyler, the population of Gilmer dropped to 4,311.

In New York City, little girls dream of becoming Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. In East Texas, high school Cinderellas head for Kilgore Junior College to see the world as a member of the world’s most renowned drill team, the Kilgore Ranger-, ettes. But unlike Rangerettes in other years, who traveled to” such exotic destinations as Venezuela and Rumania, the 1974-75 Kilgore. drill team-much to Angie’s regret, say; friends-never made it farther than the Cotton Bowl.

Angie was determined to find a ticket to the bigger, better world she knew was out there. In Dallas, that summer, after she graduated from junior college, she found him in Alan King, a handsome 20-year-old with wavy dark hair that framed a strong, rakish jaw and a flash of white teeth. After a frantic eight-month courtship, during which Angie’s college career sputtered in a last-gasp semester at the University of Texas, Angie and Alan were married in Dallas’ Park Cities Baptist Church.

Angie’s career in clothing sales began in February of 1976 at NorthPark mall, with a job selling clothes at Judy’s to girls in their teens and early 20s. Later she moved up to become a manager at T. Edwards across the mall, where her reputation spread quickly among the young career women who frequented the store.

After four and a half years in retail, Angie landed a job in the exclusive Loretta Blum boutique, then another at Lou Lattimore on Lovers Lane. At both stores, Angie was a magnet to younger, monied patrons who feared the forbidding opaque doors and haughty haute couture aura of Dallas’ most elegant boutiques.

During this time, Alan also rose quickly in the retail clothing business. Suddenly, the Kings’ income soared to over $40,000 a year. Angie became pregnant; the Kings saved their money for a down payment and bought the house on Amherst.

Despite their veneer of financial success, Angie and Alan were constantly exposed to their more affluent customers, successful businessmen with carefree wives who could spend $40,000 to $50,000 in one month just for clothes, couples their age who summered in Europe and drove Ferraris. Alan looked around at the Dallas of the early Eighties and saw money sprouting from the land dotted with real estate signs: Ebby Halliday signs in North Dallas lawns; bright blue and white Trammell Crow signs lining Stemmons Expressway; 4-by-8 “Land for Sale” signs screaming opportunity to a young man stuck helping 25-year-old real estate tycoons dress for success.

Soon after the Kings’ first daughter was born, Alan enrolled in real estate school. He quit his job and began selling houses in North Dallas and University Park. But the deals were slow to materialize. Friends say not one commission check rolled in during his entire first year.

Angie continued her ascent in the hierarchy of the local clothing trade. She was lured to an exciting new position at the Polo Shop in Highland Park Village, a job that allowed her to build on an extensive network of customer-friends among the city’s rising social elite. While she was never calculating or pushy, Angie easily attracted successful and wealthy young women to the store, former associates say. Her daily calendar became a reflection of her life, filled with notations for luncheons with local socialites, fashion shows at The Greenhouse, appointments for the children’s haircuts and birthday parties. The pages are crowded with multi-hued crayon scrawls of lopsided hearts and crazy faces and the simple words her daughter was learning to write: mommy, daddy, apple, love.

But Alan continued to struggle. In his first two years in real estate, he sold only a few houses. Angie’s income became the family’s mainstay. Another baby was on the way.

Alan switched to commercial real estate, hoping to cash in on the commercial market boom, but his commission checks soon stopped altogether. In frustration, he quit his job and stayed home to play Mr. Mom to save the expense of a housekeeper. The arrangement only served to make things worse. So Alan once again put on his power suit, faultlessly knotted a silk tie and hit the downtown office leasing market, joining thousands of other attractive young men in dark suits and blue oxford button-downs banging on doors of prospective tenants.

One source claims that Alan King made a total of $9 during the final year and a half he played the real estate game. The market was glutted, flat, with no room for a good-looking hopeful who jumped into the business because he figured anybody could make money at it.

Then, a surge of hope: In the fall of 1984, Angie was offered a terrific job as a personal consultant at Neiman-Marcus-a prestigious position that came with a salary of almost $35,000 and a potential five percent commission over a sales ceiling of $500,000. It was an exhilarating new world. Caught up in the mystique of The Store, she began dressing to fit the mold: designer dresses, designer shoes, designer purses to match designer belts. All day every day she dealt with women who bought compulsively, not because they needed or even wanted the clothes, but because shopping was what they did.

But even with Angie’s good salary and a 30 percent employee discount on merchandise from Neiman’s, the Kings couldn’t meet the rising demands of their dreams: a large mortgage payment, a full-time housekeeper, the interminable needs of two small children, plus electric bills, doctor bills, credit card invoices. Monthly notices that began “In case you’ve forgotten . . .” arrived, soon followed by threatening letters screaming in bold red type: “FINAL NOTICE. LEGAL ACTION PENDING.”

Then, about a year ago, sources say, Angie got a phone call from Heide Levy, a friend-of-a-friend she had met while working at Loretta Blum. The middle-aged German woman had noticed that Angie was about the same size as Levy’s daughter. She asked if Angie would like to sell any unwanted clothes.

So King went home and gathered up all the clothing she decided she needed somewhat less than she needed cash to pay the heating bill. Heide looked them over, haggled about the price and disappeared with the clothes.

It was then that, having discovered a cash market for designer women’s clothes, Angie allegedly developed a system for sneaking expensive merchandise past Neiman-Mar-cus’ normally vigilant security force. Who would suspect one of the store’s prized liaisons with its Silver Key customers? By February, King allegedly had begun stealing clothes and selling them to Heide, who resold the goods to friends and neighbors.

Did Heide Levy know the source of the merchandise? According to one insider, Heide did ask Angie what she should tell her customers, especially when the pair began producing specific items requested by the clientele. Angie allegedly answered that she often helped rich ladies clean out their closets and dispose of unwanted clothing. That story apparently satisfied both Heide and her customers. Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.

The plan worked like a charm, easing Alan and Angela Kings’ financial crisis. Then, one day last summer, someone- possibly one of the names in Heide’s little black book-walked into Neiman-Marcus and blew the whistle.



ON THE MORNING of Wednesday, August 7, on the third floor of Neiman’s downtown flagship store, Angie King was getting into the swing of a normal day when security personnel Joan Frazier and Frank Ramirez walked into the Silver Key dressing room/offices and summoned Angie to the security outpost downstairs. By the time police investigator Bill Sanders arrived, much later in the day, he found a very different Angela King from the pert, sunny personal shopper who had arrived for work that morning. A seven-hour marathon interview with security officials had left her shaking visibly, her face ravaged by tears. “She had been crying all day and hadn’t eaten,” Sanders recalls. “I didn’t want to take a confession under those circumstances.”

Sanders told Angela that police would be filing felony theft charges against her. He explained her rights and advised her to do her best to “make things right.” In a meek, subdued East Texas drawl, she assured the policeman that she would.

While Angela was being interrogated at Neiman’s, Lt. Dagen and three plainclothes officers had removed from King’s residence $16,387 worth of clothes bearing Neiman-Marcus price tags. Later that night, Angela led Neiman-Marcus officials to her house and surrendered another load of goods. A buyer on the scene valued the returned merchandise at more than $100,000.

“Angela really did everything she could to make it right,” says Sanders, “If she had wanted to, she could have kept that $100,000 worth of stuff. No one could prove she’d stolen it.”

According to Dagen and Sanders, King admitted outfitting herself and her family with a high-fashion wardrobe worthy of the cast of TV’s “Dynasty.” Her home was filled with Neiman-Marcus candlestick holders, Neiman-Marcus bedroom linens, a Neiman-Marcus television set. “She had Neiman-Marcus soap in her soap dishes,” sputters Sanders.



AS ANGELA KING and Heide Levy await disposition of the charges that have been filed against them in the 292nd District Courtroom of Judge Michael Keasler, neighborhoods from the Park Cities to Piano are buzzing with rumors of Who Did and Who Didn’t. Though Texas law specifies that anyone who knowingly accepts or buys stolen property is just as guilty as the thief, police apparently have no plans to prosecute the women who loaded their BMWs and Jaguars with the discounted clothes. Officers say it would be impossible to prove in court that the buyers had any direct knowledge that the clothes were stolen. Both Sanders and Lt. Dagen see more than a little hypocrisy in the wealthy, powerful people they claim were involved-the same people, the detectives say, who are the first to complain about rising crime in their neighborhoods. “All these prominent people,” says Sanders, “if they’re so concerned about theft, I wonder why they didn’t call the cops? These people were obviously well-off and well-educated. They knew what was going on.”

Neither police nor Neiman-Marcus will reveal the identity of the women listed in Levy’s ledgers. But the list is vital to the courtroom strategies of Heide Levy.

“There were some very wealthy women on that list,” says Mike Aranson, attorney for Heide Levy, “many of whom are good customers of the store.” He adds, “All of this will come out at the trial.” Aranson’s strategy seems to hinge on persuading Neiman-Marcus to drop the charges against Levy or embarrass some major customers. “They ought to let those people [Heide’s customers] keep the clothes,” Aranson says. “They paid good money for them. They didn’t know this stuff was stolen. Neiman-Marcus is going to hurt its own customer list.”

Aranson will try to convince the court that Heide never knew the clothes were stolen, that she believed the same story she repeated to her customers: Angela King got the clothes from a rich woman who bought expensive merchandise and sold it for spending money. According to Aranson, Levy is no fence, but a poor, misguided hausfrau beguiled by a clever actress named Angela King. “She lied so much!” insists Levy. “I trusted that girl one hundred percent. My guess is as good as yours, how she got these clothes. When the police came, I was confused, baffled. Scared to death!”

At first King’s lawyer, Braden Sparks, a boyish-looking ex-prosecutor hired only recently to take over the case, refused comment “in deference to Neiman-Marcus.” Says Sparks: “I really don’t believe the press is the proper forum in which to argue a case like this.” But the attorney, upon hearing Heide Levy’s proposed defense, shot back: “Even Steven Spielberg wouldn’t try to sell the one about the rich lady with the penny-pinching husband! What about the price tags? What about the fact that these women were able to order any piece of clothing they desired, down to the inventory number? If you believe that one, I’ve got some swamp land I’d like you to see.”

King’s former attorney, Jim Moore, levels some accusations of his own at Neiman-Marcus. He claims that store personnel violated King’s civil rights: “They interrogated her for eight hours without benefit of her Miranda rights, a lawyer, food or bathroom privileges.” Moore also feels that the security officers were excessive in “cleaning out” the King home. “They took everything with a Neiman-Marcus tag,” Moore charges, “even her children’s shot records, which were written on the back of a Neiman’s calendar. We had the hardest time getting them into school.”

And Moore hints that King is being used as a scapegoat. “Last year, before Angie was working there, their total shrinkage loss was $960,000. This year it’s a total of $531,000, and they’re trying to stick all that on Angie.”

Ironically, although King is accused of masterminding the half-million-dollar heist, police did not find enough evidence in her home to secure a second-degree felony theft conviction. She will probably be prosecuted on a lesser third-degree theft charge that carries a penalty of 2 to 10 years in prison. Levy, who is accused of fencing the goods, was found with more than the $20,000 benchmark for a second-degree felony. She may face up to 20 years.



IN THE WAY of many whose lives have been torn apart by the public humiliation of criminal accusations, Angela King has found Jesus. Last fall, in a friend’s living room, she was “saved.” New friends have replaced old ones who no longer want a part in Angie’s life. Alan King has given up chasing high-rise dreams and taken a steady, salaried job. Friends close to Angie say her mind is never free from the impending doom of a prison term-penance that would deprive her of precious time with her little girls.

An ironic postscript to this story was added when police checked the records of the two defendants. While Heide Levy had no criminal record, Angela King had been arrested once before.

Ten years ago, in Dallas, for shoplifting.

At Neiman-Marcus.

THE THIEVES AMONG US



THIS YEAR’S RIPOFF of half a million dollars in Neiman-Marcus merchandise may be the most sensational department store heist in Dallas history, but it’s only one case in an epidemic of “designer larceny” experts say will cost the city’s stores upwards of $70 million this year.

During the first six months of 1985, shoplifting was up a surprising 37 percent in Dallas over the same period last year. Area retailers are bracing for a wave of upscale shoplifting between Thanksgiving and December 24. An estimated 20 percent of all shoplifting occurs in crowded shopping malls during the Christmas rush.

Dallas police received reports on 8,578 shoplifting incidents last year. Since surveys show that only one out of every 35 shoplifters gets reported, experts predict shoplifting will be committed an estimated 35,000 times this year in the city of Dallas alone, or about 1,000 times a day.

The ultimate victim, of course, is the average Dallas-Fort Worth family, which will pay an average of $500 to support shoplifters this year. This “theft surcharge” adds $7 to every $100 spent in area stores.

Police and criminologists divide shoplifters into several basic types:



GREEDY AMATEURS



The most common shoplifters are the adult “five-finger discounters” who nearly always steal alone, dress well and feel they can justify an occasional impulse theft. Major department stores get dozens of envelopes each year full of “conscience money’-anonymous payments from repentant thieves, anxious parents or shoplifters who say they “didn’t have time to pay that day.”



BASHFUL BOOSTERS



Then there are those who steal things they’re too embarrassed to buy-little old ladies who snitch Playgirl, husbands who’d rather shoplift than be caught dead with a box of tampons, cross-dressers who stuff women’s lingerie into their pockets.



STICKY-FINGERED EMPLOYEES



Surprisingly, a store’s own employees steal more than all outside shoplifters put together. Forty percent of all “shrinkage” comes at the hands of dishonest clerks and store management.

One of the most common internal prob-lems, especially in Dallas area stores employing large numbers of young female clerks, is a practice called “sweetheart checking.” One salesperson simply rings up purchases at prices well below retail for friends and other employees, who return the favor by ringing up the salesclerk’s purchases at their own registers.



THRILL-SEEKERS



The next group is generally young and affluent, mostly teens and pre-teens. They steal in groups for fun and “kicks,” a way to show off or get attention from parents they think ignore them. This group plagues North Dallas’ “Valley of the Malls,” especially in November and December, when acquisitiveness is in the air, the malls are packed and the stores are manned by scores of under-trained part-time and temporary pre-Christmas employees.



PROFESSIONALS



Though smaller in number, those who shoplift for a living can hurt stores like Bloomingdale’s or Saks worst of all. They target the most expensive items, they’re nearly impossible to catch and they steal again and again, often boosting several thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise on a good day. They then sell the stolen goods for anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent of their retail price.

“Professionals work most often in groups of two or three,” says Sgt. Leslie Beilharz, a 31-year police veteran who is an expert on local shoplifting. “One engages the clerk’ while the other one steals. They steal every day and they don’t get caught. They check for two-way mirrors and floorwalkers, and they have pre-set signals to warn their partners.

“When you arrest professionals, they justgo right back out to work to pay the lawyer,”Beilharz sighs, adding that most pros goback into the stores and “steal overtime” tomake up for time spent with police. “Theonly way to stop them is to send them to thepenitentiary.” -R.A.

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