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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Minnesota

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 14, 2015

Golden Valley Man Indicted For Leading Multi-Million Dollar Cell Phone Trafficking Conspiracy

Zibo Li charged with trafficking cellular devices obtained by “credit muling” between Minnesota and Hong Kong

United States Attorney Andrew M. Luger and Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service Minneapolis Division Louis Stephens today announced the indictment of ZIBO LI, 30, and eight co-conspirators for conspiring to traffic in stolen and fraudulently obtained cellular telephones and related charges. LI led the conspiracy, during which he trafficked at least $3.8 million in stolen cellular devices throughout the United States and between the United States and Hong Kong. LI made an initial appearance today before United States Magistrate Judge Mayeron in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minn.

“According to this indictment, the criminal conspiracy dismantled today was adept at victimizing Minnesota businesses and citizens,” said Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service Minneapolis Division Louis Stephens. “Today’s success is the result of close and collaborative working relationships between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as federal prosecutors and several organizations in the retail sector. The Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force is a force multiplier that facilitates numerous law enforcement agencies in combining our resources, leveraging our various areas of expertise, and working as one. Working together, we are able to stop significant crime in its tracks.”

“As charged, 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 cell phones and turn a profit. I am proud to work with my law enforcement colleagues to put an end to this alleged conspiracy.”

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, between 2011 and 2014, ZIBO LI and eight co-defendants engaged in a conspiracy to fraudulently obtain mobile cellular devices for reduced rates by fraudulently entering into service contacts, often using identity theft. ZIBO LI ultimately sold the stolen merchandise to contacts in Hong Kong, where a new Apple iPhone could, at the time of the conspiracy, retail for as much as $2,000.

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, OMID NGANGE AKALE, DEREK KREZ MCCORMACK, and JOSEPH FRANCIS WERB, each served as middlemen in LI’s organization. They purchased stolen or fraudulently obtained phones from buyers, and subsequently sold them to ZIBO LI. LI paid the middlemen by depositing cash directly into their bank accounts.

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, buyers for the organization were responsible for obtaining low-cost phones from retailers. Among the methods employed to obtain phones was “credit muling,” a scheme through which buyers, or those acting at their direction, signed up for cellular telephone service contracts to obtain reduced cost phones in other people’s names, but never intended to or did honor those contracts. Some of the buyers also recruited people residing in homeless shelters to sign up for cell phone contracts and obtain reduced cost phones, for which those recruited received nominal payments or goods.

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, buyers often used stolen identities to enter into contracts to obtain low-cost phones. They obtained stolen identities of real victims from co-conspirators TEMETRIUS LATONYA NICKERSON and REGINALD DEMARIUS WASHINGTON. The buyers provided stolen identities to ELIJAH WAYNE JACKSON to use in the opening of cell phone service contracts from his employer, a major Twin Cities-area retailer. JACKSON ran credit checks on the stolen identities to confirm that the stolen identities could be used to enter into cell phone service contracts and obtain cellular devices using the names of the identity theft victims.

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, IFRAH ISAAK NOR and RANDOLPH KENDRICK WILLIAMS also used stolen information to fraudulently obtain cellular telephones. Rather than using stolen identity information of individuals, NOR and WILLIAMS stole the identifying information of a Twin Cities-area business, which they exploited to open business accounts with cellular telephone contract providers. Applying for business contracts allowed WILLIAMS and NOR to obtain far more low-cost phones than an individual account.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the United States Secret Service, Saint Paul Police Department, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force, University of Minnesota Police Department, and Plymouth Police Department.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Manda M. Sertich, Steven L. Schleicher, and John R. Marti.


Defendant Information:

ZIBO LI, 30
Golden Valley, Minn.

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count
• Fraud and related activity in connection with access devices, 1 count

DEREK KREZ MCCORMACK, 33
St. Louis Park, Minn.

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count
• Fraud and related activity in connection with access devices, 1 count

ELIJAH WAYNE JACKSON, 21
St. Paul, Minn.

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count
• Aggravated identity theft, 2 counts

TEMETRIUS LATONYA NICKERSON, 42
St. Paul, Minn.

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count
• Aggravated identity theft, 1 count

REGINALD DEMARIUS WASHINGTON, 23
Brooklyn Park, Minn.

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count
• Aggravated identity theft, 1 count

OMID NGANGE AKALE, 35
Minneapolis, Minn.

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count

JOSEPH FRANCIS WERB, 37
Minneapolis, Minn.

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count

RANDOLPH KENDRICK WILLIAMS, 27
Bloomington, MN

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count

IFRAH ISAAK NOR, 23
St. Louis Park, Minn.

Charges:
• Conspiracy to traffic unauthorized access devices, 1 count

 


 

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The charges are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Component(s): 
Updated May 15, 2015