MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - One of the suspects in a Minneapolis cell phone theft ring, who is now facing racketeering charges, missed his court date on Monday.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office has charged a dozen suspects with racketeering in what appears to be a widespread enterprise targeting victims across popular city bar areas.
Prosecutors are going after everyone involved in this alleged operation, ranging from the ones violently stealing the devices, those distracting the victims, the people getting into the financial apps to steal tens of thousands of dollars in cash and cryptocurrency, as well as the getaway drivers and those selling the stolen phones overseas.
Local criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Marsh Halberg, who is not involved in the case, calls it a brilliant strategy to get tough on crime.
Halberg told FOX 9’s Paul Blume, "It's a message by the county attorney's office that we're all concerned about crime. And they are trying to show we are going to take these prosecutions to the next level."
Rather than charge the cases individually, say as simple thefts, robberies or assaults, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has identified the scheme as a criminal enterprise and charged 12 so far with racketeering with convictions potentially resulting in up to 20 years in prison.
"I think it’s a little like the old Godfather movies or something like that, right? But it doesn't have to be. It can be a legal entity. It could be a corporation. It can merely be a group of people. That's all it has to be. But they have to have a common scheme and coordination of the events trying to engage in criminal activity," explained Halberg.
"It’s a very aggressive approach," he added.
One of the alleged ringleaders, Zhongshuang Su, also known as "Brandon" Su, is a Chinese national living just off Hennepin Avenue in southeast Minneapolis. He is referred to as the "iPhone Man" in court filings. The 32 year old allegedly sold many of the stolen phones overseas including to Hong Kong. Su posted a quarter-million dollars cash bail following his September arrest. He wasn’t home when a FOX 9 crew rang his doorbell Monday. He told a judge at his first court appearance, he is a crypto investor and is in Minnesota to attend Metro State University.
Also unable to be located on Monday was Alfonze Stuckey of St. Paul. Prosecutors accuse Stuckey of assisting in phone thefts through trickery, intimidation, or physical violence. His vehicle was reportedly used as a getaway in multiple incidents. Stuckey was initially charged with simple robbery and theft in a pair of earlier cases. But he was slapped with a count of racketeering with the other suspects.
Stuckey no-showed for court on Monday, a warrant remains active for his arrest.
Authorities have said the alleged scheme that targeted dozens of victims, sometimes involved the violent taking of cell phones other times, the culprits would get phones by deceiving a victim into handing it over to exchange, say social media details.
Stuckey’s attorney had no comment about him missing court on Monday.
As for Su, or "iPhone Man", he is due back in court later this month.