MINNEAPOLIS — A Facebook post from retired Maplewood Police Chief Scott Nadeau is drawing attention to what police say is an ongoing problem in downtown Minneapolis: cell phone thefts that lead to the draining of accounts, and sometimes result in violence.
An assault, captured on surveillance video at about 2:15 a.m. Saturday in downtown Minneapolis, begins with a man who police say is the victim of a cell phone theft confronting a group of people and trying to get it back. It ends with a punch, and the victim is knocked unconscious on the pavement.
Nadeau said the victim is his 24-year-old son Jack. He is now at home, recovering from a broken jaw and bleeding on his brain.
Nadeau said that after his son's phone was unlocked, the thieves stole money from his payment accounts, such as Venmo and CashApp.
"I'm wishing for the best for his recovery," said Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
On Wednesday, the Hennepin County Attorney's office charged 18-year-old Kevron Detrell Williams Gray with first-degree assault and aggravated robbery in connection with the attack on Jack Nadeau. The criminal complaint says Williams Gray took Nadeau's phone under the guise of adding their rap group's Instagram. A witness says the defendant refused to give it back, and surveillance video shows a companion of Williams Gray pushing Nadeau and then punching him, with the victim falling to the sidewalk unconscious.
During an interview, Jack Nadeau told detectives the person who stole his phone racked up 20 fraudulent transactions worth more than $1,700. One was for a pair of Nike shoes that was shipped to the defendant's address with the name "Kevin Williams."
Investigators say they then determined Williams Gray was involved in similar activities in the same area on the same night Nadeau was assaulted. When the defendant was arrested he had four cell phones on him, one belonging to a man police say was also robbed and assaulted.
Prosecutors say the cases mentioned in the criminal complaint are "part of a larger pattern of criminal activity involving assault, robbery, theft, financial transaction card fraud, and identity theft occurring regularly in downtown Minneapolis." The activity is part of an ongoing investigation by Minneapolis Police and other law enforcement agencies.
A search warrant reveals that another victim woke under a bridge in June with injuries, his phone missing and his CashApp account drained.
With the number of people using their cell phones without full awareness of who's around them, Cramer calls it an organized crime of opportunity.
"We do have an extensive camera network and there's lot of evidence collected. And if they're not solved immediately, there's a lot of opportunity to come back and find who the perpetrators are," Cramer said.
The Minneapolis Downtown council currently has an on-going awareness campaign for cell phone theft.
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