20 Indicted in Alleged Smartphone Theft Ring

Updated: 08/13/2014 7:05 AM
Created: 08/12/2014 5:09 PM
By: Beth McDonough

Eighteen people were arrested Tuesday for their connection to a worldwide crime ring involving stolen cellphones and identities, which was centered in the Twin Cities.

Many cell phones were bought with stolen identities from Minnesotans and sold for profits of up to 1,000 percent in places like China, according to federal investigators.

Twenty people were involved in the sale of potentially tens of thousands of stolen cellphones and tablets, which could be worth tens of millions of dollars, according to officials. Some of the suspects appear to have a criminal history involving; theft, assault and using a fake name.

The indictment accuses Jamal Talal Mustafa of leading the ring.

More than 300 law enforcement officers and agents executed 23 search warrants Tuesday morning.

Authorities say members of the Mustafa family hired so-called runners to do their dirty work.

They'd either flat out steal cellphones from people across the country, including students from the University of Minnesota, like Mehram Motevaze, "I've been robbed three times." Thieves got his friend Tanna Rittmasters' phone, "I just felt very violated."   

They also hit Wal-Mart stores across the upper Midwest.

But also in a highly sophisticated fashion, federal officials say the Mustafas would provide the runners with stolen private information like social security numbers. They would then go through mobile phone carriers like Verizon to sign up for two-year plans and would use the fake ID's to get phones for cheap.

Those phones were then being sold at 13 cellphone storefronts, owned by the Mustafas, across the Twin Cities to unsuspecting customers. Other phones were shipped to the East Coast and eventually overseas; they would go to countries where they'd sell for more than $1,000.

Investigators say one runner who was arrested admitted to stealing 9,000 cellphones and earned the family $3 million.  He's one of several runners, and the runners were just part of the operation.

The 42-year-old Mustafa of Apple Valley was represented Tuesday by public defender Reggie Aligada. Aligada declined to comment because Mustafa is expected to have a different lawyer for future proceedings. No home listing for Mustafa could be found.

“Today’s indictments are an important step forward in the effort to crack down on criminals who are stealing and reselling these devices,” said Klobuchar. 'Cellphone theft not only costs consumers $30 billion each year, but these often violent crimes also pose a serious threat to public safety. I will continue to push ensure that all consumers have access to “kill-switch” technology to protect themselves, their smartphones, and their personal information.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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