FBI: Gang members arrested in phone thefts from 9 states

By MARK GILLISPIE
Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Members of a violent Ohio street gang have been charged in federal court for their involvement in the thefts of $500,000 worth of cellphones and electronic devices from stores and shopping malls in nine states outside of Ohio, an FBI spokeswoman said Thursday.

FBI agents and Cleveland police detectives arrested three members of the Heartless Felon gang early Thursday, the spokeswoman said. Four already were incarcerated for other crimes, and one is being sought by authorities.

The crew of seven men and one woman stole phones and devices from 18 stores and mall kiosks between April and July 2016, according to an FBI affidavit. The gang members would bring the phones back to Cleveland and sell them to gas stations and phone stores, which in turn sold some of them overseas. The eight suspects range in age from 20 to 35.

The thefts occurred in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, South Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin and New York.

Several violent incidents have been attributed to Heartless Felon members, including a triple homicide at a suburban Cleveland barbershop. One of the men charged in the thefts faces aggravated murder charges for an armed robbery and shootout in September at a gas station that resulted in an accomplice being killed. Heartless Felons is one of largest gangs in Ohio's prison system.

The FBI said gang members would wait until after a store or mall kiosk had closed or was about to close to pry open drawers or locked storage cabinets with crowbars, throw the phones into bags and dash outside to getaway vehicles. The suspects appear to have received help from store employees in some of the thefts, the FBI said.

Agents used images from the suspects' Instagram accounts to link the clothing they were wearing at the time of the thefts to video captured by surveillance cameras.