A participant in a Minneapolis smartphone theft ring has been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison

A participant in a Minneapolis smartphone theft ring has been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison

A 25-year-old St. Paul man is headed to prison after he was among several people who at times forcibly stole more than 100 smartphones in downtown Minneapolis and then took money from their victims’ financial apps.

Aaron T. Johnson, 25, was sentenced Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court to nearly eight years in prison after pleading guilty to extortion for stealing and reselling phones and finding people on social media willing to launder stolen money.

Because of time served since his arrest, Johnson is expected to serve the first 4¾ years and the remainder on supervised release.

“People should feel safe in our county,” County Attorney Mary Moriarty said in a statement. “This sophisticated operation targeted unsuspecting victims enjoying a night out and contributed to a culture of fear that threatens the vibrancy of our community.”

Johnson was among 12 people charged in September with being part of a roving network of sometimes violent robbers who stole phones from dozens of people near bars in downtown Minneapolis and Dinkytown for nearly a year between June 2021 and May 2022 and hacked into their transactional apps. a total of money was siphoned off. more than $275,000 and regularly sold the phones to a man who shipped them overseas to buyers.

In addition to his role in several phone thefts, Johnson told police at the time of his arrest that he acted as a middleman, buying phones from people on Hennepin Avenue and telling them he didn’t want to know where they came from. the criminal complaint.

He said he would refurbish the phones, put what he ordered in new boxes and sell them to “foreigners” at a profit, the indictment continued.

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The most prominent of those charged is 32-year-old Zhongshuang Su of Minneapolis, also known as Brandon Su. He is accused of being the man known to others in the system as the “iPhone man” who bought the stolen phones and shipped them to overseas buyers.

In all, prosecutors believe Su shipped 40 of 1,135 phones to addresses in Hong Kong. Prosecutors put the phones’ value at more than $800,000.

The defendants working on the street often targeted drunk people when they left the closed bars in June 2021, the indictment reads. One of the defendants told police that a group of roughly 15 people from St. Paul is alleged to have come to the downtown Minneapolis bar district in recent years to steal phones from people.

In some cases, the defendants took phones, including through intimidation, “trickery and force,” resulting in serious injuries to people, the indictment reads. At other times, the accused approached people in a friendly manner and asked them for their phones under the pretext of adding themselves to a social networking site.

Allegations continued that the defendants would arrange for the victims to unlock their phones before handing them over to their accomplices, who would transfer money from the victims’ accounts to the thieves’ accounts using mobile payment services such as Venmo, Zelle and Coinbase.

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