First guilty plea in Minneapolis cell phone theft ring conspiracy

Prosecutors have picked up their first guilty plea in a widespread cell phone theft ring conspiracy targeting victims across Minneapolis.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s office is using a unique strategy in state criminal court, having charged a dozen suspects with racketeering for orchestrating a sophisticated and sometimes violent scheme. Authorities have alleged this was a coordinated, brazen, criminal enterprise victimizing more than 40 people mostly in and around the city’s popular bar districts over the last year-plus.

A dozen suspects were initially charged with working together to snatch cell phones, stealing tens of thousands of dollars through the victim’s online financial apps, and ultimately selling the expensive devices on the black market.

Twenty-three-year-old Alfonze Stuckey entered a guilty plea to a count of racketeering on Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court.

Stuckey agreed to a nearly five-year prison term, officially 57 months. In exchange, the state signed off on not adding any additional charges against him beyond what is already laid out in the racketeering complaint. In a couple of incidents, it is alleged Stuckey physically assaulted victims by punching them to steal their cell phones.

Additionally, Stuckey will not have to testify against any of his codefendants in the conspiracy in open court which is often what prosecutors are looking for as they attempt to hold all of the players in a criminal conspiracy accountable, according to Hamline Mitchell Emeritus Law Professor Joseph Daly.

"Just because you're not going to use them at a trial doesn't mean they won't use the information that they can get from them to bring in the other racketeers," explained Daly, who is not directly involved in the case. "So that's a pretty significant plea bargain to not have to testify against the other people. It's always, always a terrifying reality if you're going to turn state's evidence against higher-level racketeers. I mean, it's dangerous."

As for the man, authorities have identified as one of the conspiracy’s ring leaders, Brandon Su, or, "iPhone Man" as some have referred to him, he is due back in court on Friday. The Chinese national is the one accused of ultimately ending up with many of the stolen cell phones, and selling them on the black market both locally and abroad.

"I think they will really aim to get the highest level people that they can get, and they'll be using whoever is pleading guilty, whatever information they have to bring in," Daly added. "And like I said, it's racketeering. It's a crime that has been used mostly to get Mafioso figures, but it's almost like we have a small time, maybe not so small Mafioso operation going on here in Minneapolis."

Stuckey, who is one of four charged defendants currently in custody at the Hennepin County Jail, is formally scheduled to be sentenced on December 20. Arrest warrants remain active for six of the alleged conspirators.

The statutory maximum penalty for racketeering in Minnesota is 20 years in prison.