St. Paul man sentenced in connection with cellphone theft, fraud operation

A St. Paul man learned his future on Wednesday after pleading guilty to one count of racketeering in connection with a cellphone theft and fraud operation.

19-year-old Charlie Pryor Jr. was sentenced to nearly three-and-a-half years (41 months) in the St. Cloud Correctional Facility, court records show.

Pryor plead guilty to one count of racketeering in April in exchange for a sentence of 36 to 48 months, which will run concurrently with a separate conviction.

According to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the ring operated for more than a year in the downtown area of Minneapolis.

In addition to stealing phones, a complaint filed by County Attorney Mike Freeman says the 12 suspects also moved money from the victims’ phones to people associated with the theft ring. The document also states the stolen phones were sold locally and outside of the United States.

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Authorities say the fraudsters often targeted people who were leaving bars in the area at the time of bar close, with some taking phones by force. However, authorities say the suspects would make sure the victim unlocked a phone before taking it so money could be moved from the accounts using services such as Venmo, Zelle and Coinbase.

Eventually, the suspects allegedly funneled phones to a man identified as Zhongshuang Su, nicknamed “the iPhone Man,” who would then sell the phones.

Authorities state more than four dozen phones were sent to Hong Kong and more than two dozen other phones were sent to Su’s employer.

Overall, the thefts are said to have cost a total of more than $300,000.

The operation allegedly ran from June 2021 through May 2022.