When stealing a cellphone becomes a federal offense

In 2014, a Minneapolis man broke into more than 20 cellphone stores across five states. According to the StarTribune, the man would steal phones and then allegedly sell them to an international crime ring. He was charged with conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation of stolen property, which any criminal defense attorney St. Paul knows is a federal offense.

The details of the case

In order to break into the stores, the man would target companies in a strip mall that had vacant spaces next door. He would then break into the empty storefront and burrow through the wall into the neighboring cellphone store. If the store’s security system went off, law enforcement might notice that the doors and windows of the store had been unharmed, leading them to believe that no crime had taken place.

The defendant in this case was arrested after accidentally dropping his phone in one of the stores. A “selfie” on the phone led law enforcement to the man’s apartment. Agents found more than a half a pound of methamphetamine at the home, and they believe the man intended to distribute it. Investigators also found a bag filled with what they called burglary tools, such as a crowbar.

The cellphone black market

DNA evidence and footprints linked the defendant to at least nine burglaries in Minnesota and roughly a dozen more in Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin. Prosecutors have charged that the man sold the cellphones to the Mustafa Organization. The organization would hire runners who would either commit theft or use false information to obtain expensive cellphones. The devices were then sold overseas for a significant amount of money. In 2014, 20 members of the Mustafa crime organization were indicted on charges of stealing phones and other electronic devices.

As a criminal defense attorney in St. Paul has seen, similar charges were brought against a California couple who would pay homeless people to purchase a cellphone and a usage plan. The couple would then ship the phones to Asia, where the devices would net up to $1,000 apiece. According to Wired magazine, the couple made millions of dollars before getting arrested and sentenced to time in prison.

A federal crime

The Minneapolis man will be prosecuted in federal court for the theft. Under the National Stolen Property Act, it is a federal offense to do any of the following:

  • Transport stolen goods worth $5,000 or more across state lines
  • Sell stolen goods valued at $5,000 or more
  • Accept stolen goods as a security for a loan

Anyone who has questions regarding theft and federal offenses should consult with a criminal defense attorney in St. Paul.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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