Charges: Minnesota man broke through walls to steal smartphones for crime ring


A Minnesota man authorities say is responsible for stealing hundreds of smartphones and tablets for an international electronics theft ring was caught after he purportedly left his own cellphone – with a photo of himself stored on it – behind at the crime scene.

The U.S Attorney's Office announced Tuesday Abbas Ateia Al Hussainawee, a 40-year-old from Minneapolis, is charged with conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation of stolen property.

The charges say he burglarized numerous electronics stores, taking thousands of dollars' worth of items which he would then sell to an infamous international crime ring, the Mustafa Organization.

How did he do it?

According to the charges, in lieu of breaking locked doors or smashing windows, Hussainawee would illegally enter a store by knocking a hole in the wall. He would specifically look for cellphone shops in strip malls, with an empty storefront next door, then break through to gain entry to the cellphone business.

The charges say he burglarized at least 22 different stores (across five states, including Minnesota), at times taking dozens of cellphones, iPads and tablet computers in a single swipe. Best Buy and Verizon stores were among the businesses hit. The Mustafa Organization then paid Hussainawee in cash for the items, the attorney's office says.

According to the Star Tribune, a special agent with the Secret Service testified Hussainawee was caught after he inadvertently dropped and left his personal cellphone at a Maplewood store, and investigators found a selfie on it.

The black market for stolen phones

There's a lot of money to be made in the (illegal) stolen cellphone business.

Wired magazine dove into that "secret world" this month, detailing one method that authorities say netted a California couple millions of dollars.

According to she story, the duo would pay homeless people $100 to go buy a cellphone, along with a plan – then hand the phone over to them and never pay a cent on the bill. Those phones would then be shipped to Asia and sold, often for close to $1,000. (Both are serving prison time now.)

The so-called Mustafa Organization was reportedly one of those rings.

According to charges filed in August, the family theft ring operated in eight states and was led by Jamal Talal Mustafa from Apple Valley.

They would hire runners (such as Hussainawee, authorities say) to use stolen identity information to sign up for a phone plan and get an expensive phone for cheap. The runners would then ship those phones to the Mustafas overseas, where they'd be sold for significantly more.

Twenty purported members of the Mustafa crime family were indicted earlier this year, in what was described as one of the largest criminal enterprise busts in Twin Cities history.

Last year, WNYC reported one estimate suggested 4,000 phones were stolen every single day in the U.S.

Next Up

snow, plow

Snowy Saturday: Here's how much snow is forecast in Minnesota

Snow will reach the metro area by the early afternoon.

Cam Talbot

Wild improve to 4-1 with victory over Dubnyk, Sharks

The 4-1 win gives the Wild four victories in five games to start the season.

Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 9.08.16 PM

Daughter of MN Supreme Court Justice, Allina Health CEO found dead in Iowa

The 21-year-old was found dead in the parking lot of a sorority, according to police.

Screen Shot 2020-09-04 at 8.42.40 PM

Federal charges: MN marijuana lobbyist threatened U.S. representative

"I want you to be as scared as possible," the voicemail allegedly says.

coronavirus, masks, covid-19

Wisconsin Republicans aim to end governor's mask mandate

They've introduced a resolution to remove the governor's emergency powers.

Ted Schweich

Community group hopes to install billboard to get neighbor a kidney

A group called "Team Ted" aims to raise $5,000 to find their friend a kidney donor.

Andrew Palmer

Charges: Coach raped teenage girl on Minnesota basketball team

The 33-year-old head coach has been charged in connection to the alleged crimes.

radio station, microphone

WCCO Radio's program director leaves the company

It's not clear why John Hanson and the station parted ways.

Minneapolis skyline

Minneapolis a step closer to banning facial recognition technology

There are concerns about it leading to a surveillance state, and that it could harm disadvantaged communities.