GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Several businesses across metro Grand Rapids were robbed of cellphones as part of an expansive criminal conspiracy, according to a federal indictment.
Federal investigators say the “hostile, takeover-style robberies” happened at Target, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile stores across Grand Rapids from March 2020 to at least January 2021.
The robbers allegedly entered the stores wearing masks and showing guns. Prosecutors say they threatened store employees and customers, forcing them to the ground. The suspects stole hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of cellphones and other technology, investigators said.
“Talking with my team, we’ve seen an increase in these types of crimes,” Mark Totten, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan, told News 8 Monday. “They are brazen crimes. They can be terrorizing to the people who experience them.”
“If you engage in this crime, you will face very serious consequences,” Totten added.
Investigators say five suspects robbed the AT&T on Alpine Avenue of $47,000 worth of electronics in November 2021. That December, $104,000 worth of technology was stolen from the AT&T on 28th Street, according to the Kent County Sheriff’s Office.
In January 2021, federal investigators say three people went into the T-Mobile on 84th Street, shoved an employee to the back room and forced them to open a safe. The criminals walked out with $40,000 worth of cellphones, prosecutors said.
The ring appears to have involved about a dozen people, the sheriff’s office said, though it’s unclear exactly how many people were involved in the scheme and how much was ultimately stolen.
Totten would not comment specifically on the case, citing the ongoing criminal case, but he explained his office takes several factors into consideration when deciding whether to charge.
“We’re looking at the value of the loss,” Totten said. “We’re looking at the organized nature of the crime. We are looking at the number of incidents. We are looking at the violence that’s associated with it.”
Some of those reportedly involved in the ring have already been charged at the state level and sentenced in circuit court, including 19-year-old Tyriq McKinney of Grand Rapids and 21-year-old Jamone Carter of Gaines Township. Both were involved in robbing the AT&T on 28th Street, the sheriff’s office said.
Carter was sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison for that case, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections. McKinney was given a sentence of between about two and 15 years.
Other people allegedly involved in the ring are facing federal charges. Tayseer Yousef was indicted in federal court last month for helping the criminals sell the phones for profit.
Investigators say Yousef, who lived in the Chicago area, drove to Michigan and bought the cellphones from either the robbers or intermediaries. He resold some at his own cellphone store in Tinley Park, Illinois, and sold others overseas.
“We have to show these goods were transported across interstate lines,” Totten said. “We’ve alleged that that’s what happened here. The robberies were taking place in Michigan. The individual we charged was located in Chicago.”
As the robbers evaded police on the road, Yousef allegedly advised them how to get away from law enforcement.
“Lose them on side streets,” Yousef allegedly texted another member of the conspiracy.
He is expected to appear in federal court on Aug. 22.