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20 Indicted In Alleged Smartphone Theft Ring

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man ran a multimillion-dollar crime ring that involved stealing cellphones or acquiring them fraudulently and then reselling them across the U.S. and overseas, according to an indictment announced Tuesday.

Twenty people were indicted, including eight owners of cellphone stores and 11 people accused of acquiring phones from across the country.

The indictment alleges that the leader was Jamal Talal Mustafa, 42, of Apple Valley. Prosecutors said he oversaw the ring, directing the crime network to acquire phones and then helping fence the illegally acquired goods.

Mustafa is scheduled to enter a plea Friday. He made an initial appearance in court Tuesday along with public defender Reggie Aligada, who declined to comment to The Associated Press because Mustafa is expected to have a different lawyer for future proceedings.

No home listing for Mustafa could be found.

Court documents say 11 of the suspects were “runners” who obtained phones from Arizona, Idaho, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Utah.

They allegedly acquired phones at a deep discount by signing up for family plans or business accounts using stolen identities. They received phones for as little as $200, and other defendants allegedly shipped them overseas where they sell for $1,000 to $1,200 apiece.

In other cases, runners allegedly broke into Wal-Mart stores to steal cellphones, tablets and other devices.

One runner was arrested in Utah last year with more than 80 fake identification documents, which the runner used to open lines of credit and buy devices, prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said identity theft rings are the modern face of organized crime. He credited the collaboration of multiple law enforcement agencies for helping break up this ring.

“We are able to stand here today having taken out one of the largest criminal enterprises in the Twin Cities,” he said.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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