Minneapolis cell phone theft scheme leads to racketeering charges

An alleged criminal scheme illustrates the use of technology as part of stealing, leading to authorities cracking down on a stolen cell phone ring operating in Minneapolis.

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office is charging a dozen people in a conspiracy involving suspects stealing funds through the victim’s online financial apps.

A large-scale investigation involving the BCA and MPD spreading back more than a year involves at least 40 alleged victims – some violently injured – and losses topping $200,000.

The effort was a concentrated one for Hennepin County prosecutors to crack down on a crime that has plagued the late-night bar scene in downtown Minneapolis. 

According to authorities, the scheme involved various members of the conspiracy stealing the devices often through force or intimidation, then fraudulently transferring funds from the victim’s phone, and selling the devices on the black market locally – sometimes even internationally.

"We need tough justice, we need tough safety," said downtown Minneapolis restaurant owner David Fhima told FOX 9.

Fhima remains bullish on downtown, and welcomes the charges that the county attorney’s complex prosecution unit filed as racketeering crimes.

It’s an extremely rare use of the law in state court, in which a person is allegedly associated with an enterprise and participates in a pattern of criminal activity. 

In total the charges detail more than 40 victims with losses nearing $160,000 dollars in cash, another $85,000 in cryptocurrency and stolen smart phone devices worth an estimated $25,000.

"We have to hold people accountable and then we have to figure out how to help them be better. We have to do both," Fhima says. "But… people are not going to get better by not being not being accountable."

The defendants range in age from 18 to 41, and are both men and women. 

Some of them may be looking at upwards of 20 years in prison if convicted, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.