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Charges: Suspects recruited homeless people in $3.8M cellphone trafficking scheme

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A Twin Cities man is accused of leading a multimillion-dollar criminal enterprise whose activities officials believe stretched all the way to Hong Kong.

30-year-old Golden Valley man Zibo Li and eight other Twin Cities residents were charged in a Minneapolis federal court on Thursday in a cellphone trafficking scheme, according to a news release.

The federal indictment says the operation used stolen identities to fraudulently open cellphone service contracts to get discounts on expensive phones, which Li would then buy and sell overseas at a huge profit.

So those offers that phone companies put out there, where you can get an expensive phone for cheap if you sign up for a contract? The indictment says the people involved in the ring would use stolen identities or ask homeless people to sign up for such contracts – then never pay the bills, take the actual phone, and sell it.

Officials say defendant Elijah Wayne Jackson, an employee of a "major Twin Cities-area retailer," helped his co-conspirators by running credit checks on the stolen identities to confirm that they could be used to sign up for one of those plans.

The release says contracts were opened at his employer, which an Associated Press report indicates is Target.

The devices eventually ended up in Hong Kong, where officials say an iPhone could fetch up to $2,000. The operation, which lasted about three years, netted "at least" $3.8 million.

“These defendants stole the identifying information of nearly 60 known individuals and 20 known businesses,” said Assistant United States Attorney Manda M. Sertich. “They exploited vulnerable members of our society, including people residing in homeless shelters, to steal cellphones and turn a profit."

Charges for all nine include conspiracy, fraud and identity theft.

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