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Dad accused of stealing millions in toys ordered held, called flight risk

Branko Bogdanov

Branko Bogdanov

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Updated: April 12, 2014 6:06AM



Lela Bogdanov shuffles into court, haggard and at times appearing barely able to stand — a portrait of frailty.

But she’s a fake, a federal prosecutor Monday told a judge deciding whether to set bond for the 52-year-old Northbrook woman.

The woman — accused, along with her husband and daughter, of traveling the country to steal millions of dollars’ worth of toys they later sold on eBay — appears to be in vigorous health on a store surveillance tape, Assistant U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti told U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mason.

“This is a defendant who is sprinting quickly into and out of stores ... with great agility,” Mariotti said.

What’s more, Bogdanov’s claim she doesn’t speak English — she used an interpreter in court — is nonsense, Mariotti said.

“At one point, she scolded one of my [U.S. Secret Service] agents and told him she spoke English,” Mariotti said.

Mason wasted little time ordering Bogdanov held without bond, as he did with her husband, Branko Bogdanov, at a hearing earlier in the day.

Mason said he is concerned that both are a flight risk. Lela Bogdanov’s attorney earlier argued that his client had no reason to flee — mostly because all of her family is here, as are the doctors treating her cancer and heart problems.

Before Mason ordered Branko Bogdanov, 58, detained, prosecutors said he had lied about the true value of his wealth.

The Bogdanovs and daughter Julia Bogdanov, 34, are accused of stealing from the shelves of stores in at least six states in the last five months, according to a federal complaint announced last week.

Added together, the toys and other goods the Bogdanovs and their fence sold on eBay over the last decade fetched more than $4.2 million, court papers state.

Mariotti noted Branko Bogdanov has an extensive criminal history that includes 16 arrests and six criminal convictions in various states.

Mariotti also said federal officials detained Bogdanov in 1994, intending to deport him — but at the time, his apparent home country, the former Yugoslavia, was in turmoil.

Mariotti said Bogdanov’s assertion he is worth a negative $28,500 is nonsense, noting the accused owns a home worth about $1.4 million.

Bogdanov’s attorney, Forrest Tatel, said his client was never deported because he has “no country of origin” and has no passport. Tatel also said his client has strong ties to the community, having lived in Northbrook for 17 years and for 18 years in Skokie.

Prosecutors had no initial objection to the release of Julia Bogdanov, but the judge held up her release after hearing the woman she had planned to stay with has two misdemeanor arrests. A court date was set for Tuesday for defense attorneys to come up with alternative living arrangements.

Contributing: Kim Janssen

Email: sesposito@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slesposito



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