MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (FOX 9) - One metro area family is speaking out, sharing their story of how thieves stole their cell phone and how quickly they attempted to drain their online financial apps, in hopes of helping others.
A sweeping investigation involving state and local law enforcement in Minneapolis recently led to racketeering charges against a dozen suspects in a sophisticated cellphone theft ring.
Authorities report there were at least 40 victims stretching back more than a year though the number is expected to be much, much higher. According to court filings, the crew got away with tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent financial transfers.
"And then I saw a Venmo transaction, cash app transaction. It was fast. They got $5,000 out really quickly," one woman told FOX 9’s Paul Blume. She said she was shocked at the speed of the thieves.
"And boom, they disappeared. He said they were gone in seconds. There was a group of them."
The woman has a college-aged son in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. FOX 9 is protecting their identities.
According to their account, the young man was out drinking with pals at Blarney Pub and Grill near the University of Minnesota in January when he thought he was meeting a new friend at the bar.
The woman said, "The guy was very friendly to him, and they were just chatting."
But afterward, outside on the block, the guy asked for her son’s iPhone to exchange Snapchat information. As soon as he handed over the device, his new acquaintance and several others, in what appeared to be a coordinated group, took off.
After her son notified her soon after, she logged into his online bank account and the thieves were already draining the funds he was using to help pay for college.
At this point, it is not clear if the recently broken up cell phone theft ring is responsible for what happened to the young man.
In addition to the timing and location, court filings indicate the dozen suspects would sometimes deploy a friendlier approach like this one to steal a phone. Other times, they are accused of using sheer force, violence or intimidation.
The man authorities identified as the conspiracy’s ring leader, Zhongshuang or"Brandon" Su, aka the iPhone Man, was arrested this week. A hot pot restaurant he apparently co-owns is just a block away from Blarney, where the woman’s son had his device stolen.
"It's just good to see that some people are going to get justice, and hopefully fewer people are going to be victimized," she said during an interview at her home.
On Friday, Su posted $150,000 cash bail to get out of jail.
It doesn't appear the other 11 suspects, charged by warrant, have been arrested yet.
Authorities have said they want to hear from potential victims of this alleged conspiracy that was active in popular Minneapolis bar districts, as more charges are possible. Given the racketeering allegations, some defendants may be looking at up to 20 years in prison if convicted.