James Whitner – founder and frontman of The Whitaker Group – has been named in a court document detailing an international money laundering scheme worth millions of dollars.
The report was filed through Dena J. King on November 17th in the Western District of North Carolina. Over the course of twenty pages, King breaks down how the A Ma Maniére and Social Status operator got involved with Chinese nationals in a “trade-based money laundering” operation centered around Whitner’s connection with an unnamed sneaker company in Oregon.
According to the court case, which was retrieved by Kari Daniels – best known online as @sneakerphetish – and reviewed by Sneaker News, Whitner knowingly broke his contract with at least one sneaker company based in the Pacific North West (presumably Nike, Inc., his most visible partner):
Sneaker Company expressly forbode Whitner and Whitner’s businesses from selling, shipping, consigning or otherwise transferring Sneaker Company’s sneakers and other apparel: 1) outside the United States; 2) to another retailer, or to a distributor or broker; or 3) to any other person under circumstances where Whitner knew or should have known based on the circumstances of the transaction that the product was intended for resale or would likely be resold.
Whitner established a connection with an individual in China identified as “YG,” selling him footwear and apparel since 2017. Over the next five years, at least 255 transactions occurred between all parties involved, totaling more than $32 million USD. According to a consensual phone call between the Whitaker Group founder and an associate ultimately arrested for his involvement in the operation, Whitner was not aware of any illicit activity on behalf of the Chinese national’s side of the agreement – his business was simply “exchanging shoes for money.” Couriers used in the operation, however, often collected money from prostitutes in the New York City area and used it as payment to Whitner’s associate, Antwain Freeman.
James Whitner and Nike, Inc. haven’t released a statement about the situation, but according to Jason Stoogenke of Action9 in Charolette, NC, the Whitaker Group founder was contacted three different ways on Monday without any response. Whitner, however, shared the following statement with Sneaker News on Tuesday morning:
The recent action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina (USAO) comes after significant cooperation and good-faith negotiations on our part. To be clear, while we take the allegations in the complaint seriously, they are unfounded, unrelated to our business or this community and unjustified. Our professional inventory management team runs a transparent process built on systems that are both legally compliant and consistent with industry standards. We have also complied with all tax obligations annually.
We have been a staple of the global business community for over 20 years, operating over twenty locations and employing over 250 employees across the country. Our work has been dedicated to helping people of color tell their stories and build a legacy of excellence. That work is now under attack, despite our best efforts at productive engagement with the USAO.
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. Our success has made us an easy target caught in the middle of a U.S. financial and regulatory war with China of which we have no part in.
We look forward to defending our business and operating model while continuing to proudly serve the communities that have embraced us over the last 20 years. This complaint will not deter us from continuing to tell our stories and build a legacy of excellence and we will continue to vigorously defend our business and all that they contribute to culture, commerce and the community.
Whitner has not been charged as of this writing, but has had to forfeit the unreported $1,199,530 USD he was aware of and seized from Freeman’s residence in New Jersey.