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St. Paul man sentenced in elaborate cell phone theft ring

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office said Aaron Johnson, one of 12 people charged in connection with the ring, was sentenced to 94 months in prison Tuesday.

MINNEAPOLIS — A 26-year-old St. Paul man was sentenced to nearly eight years in prison Tuesday for his involvement in a highly organized cell phone robbery ring that targeted people in downtown Minneapolis.

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office said Aaron Johnson, one of 12 people charged in connection with the ring, was sentenced to 94 months in prison. Last week, Johnson made a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to racketeering and avoiding a potential sentence of up to 20 years.

Following Johnson's sentencing, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty released a statement applauding the work of state and local law enforcement in their "extensive" investigation. 

“People have to feel and be safe in our county. This sophisticated operation targeted unsuspecting victims enjoying a night out and contributed to instilling a culture of fear that threatens the vibrancy of our community," Moriarty said. "I am grateful for the groundbreaking and extensive investigation by the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the highly-skilled team in our office that partnered closely with them on these cases.”

According to prosecutors, those involved in the scheme allegedly targeted intoxicated people in downtown Minneapolis for over a year.

The original complaint says the alleged thieves would often approach the victim in a very friendly way, striking up a conversation and sometimes claiming to be part of a rap group.

The complaint goes on to say the suspects would also sometimes ask the victim for their phone to add themselves to one of the victim's social media platforms, getting access to the unlocked phone and subsequently taking off with full access to the victim's financial apps.

Last summer, the son of retired Maplewood Police Chief Scott Nadeau was targeted outside a downtown Minneapolis bar, being knocked unconscious after his phone was stolen.

The following people have also been charged with racketeering for their participation in the theft ring:

  • Aaron Johnson, age 25, of Saint Paul.
  • Sharlotte Green, age 21, of Saint Paul.
  • Charlie Pryor Jr., age 18, of Saint Paul.
  • Charlie Pryor Sr., age 41, of Saint Paul.
  • Lawrence Miles, age 22, of Bloomington.
  • Heiron Birts, age 26, of Minneapolis.
  • Alfonze Stuckey, age 23, of Saint Paul.
  • Sherrod Lamar, age 23, of Saint Paul.
  • Emarion White, age 18, of Saint Paul.
  • Antonio Green, age 19, of Saint Paul.
  • David Mullins, age 26, of Minneapolis.
  • Zhongshuang Su, a.k.a "Brandon Su," of Minneapolis.

As part of the scheme, which operated for more than a year, the thefts resulted in more than $300,000 in losses.

  • Cash: $159,797.33
  • Cryptocurrency: $85,283.34
  • Value of stolen phones (estimated): $25,267
  • Attempted cash: $32,086.07

Officials say this group of people would "systematically" steal the phones, "fraudulently transfer funds from the victims' phones to individuals associated with the theft ring, and then sell the stolen cell phones locally and internationally."

The robbery ring would give the stolen phones to Zhongshuang Su, nicknamed "the iPhone Man." 

"Nearly 50 shipments of phones were sent to Hong Kong, while another 30 shipments were sent to the address of a Minneapolis hotpot restaurant that employs Mr. Su," according to a news release from Moriarty's office.

Prosecutors say the alleged thieves used Venmo, Zelle and Coinbase to transfer the funds off of their victims' phones, and that the group pulled off more than 40 heists.

According to authorities, the defendants are linked to each other in many ways, including a father and son, at least one romantic relationship, and a pair of cousins.

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