High-tech gadgets snatched from the hands of Metro riders in recent years might have passed through the hands of kiosk operators at popular local malls, authorities said Friday in announcing the indictments of three men accused of trafficking stolen smartphones.
The indictments come as police are combating a surge in thefts and robberies on the Metro rail and bus systems.
Authorities said the indictments were the result of a lengthy undercover operation by local police and the FBI that started shortly after two robbers were arrested in Metro stations in early 2010. The thieves, who had snatched iPhones from riders’ hands, separately told police that kiosk operators at Pentagon City mall were fencing stolen smartphones, authorities said.
Undercover Arlington County police were soon conducting a sting operation at the mall in which they sold and brokered sales of supposedly stolen smartphones to the kiosk clerks.
Two of the clerks — brothers — were indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Alexandria on charges of conspiracy, purchasing stolen goods and receiving stolen goods. Farid Ahmad 33, and Naeem Ahmad, 31, of Woodbridge face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
A federal grand jury in Alexandria last week also indicted Ahmer Aslam, 27, of Dumfries on charges of purchasing and receiving stolen goods. Aslam could face up to 20 years in prison.
Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn, whose department participated in the investigation, said the indictments were evidence of law enforcement efforts to crack down on snatch-and-grab robberies and thefts from riders.
“We don’t want our patrons to have their things taken away from them,” said Taborn, adding that such crimes could also involve assaults and other forms of violence.
A lawyer for the Ahmad brothers could not be reached for comment. Pat Woodward Jr., an attorney for Aslam, said his client “is a hardworking young man with no criminal history. We will review the government’s evidence and answer the charges in court.”
Shortly after getting the tip about the kiosk operators in early 2010, undercover Arlington police officers began meeting with the Ahmads at their PCC Wireless kiosk at Pentagon City mall, court papers say. Undercover officers brokered a deal with the Ahmads that culminated in a May meeting outside the mall, where police handed the brothers 27 iPhones and 14 MacBook computers in exchange for $6,400 in cash, authorities said. The brothers were arrested moments later.
That month, authorities said, an undercover officer made a similar transaction with Aslam, a sales clerk at the Cellaris cellphone kiosk on the roof of the Pentagon City parking garage, where he handed over 28 iPhones and 14 MacBooks for $16,000. Aslam was arrested after putting the electronics into the trunk of his car, police said.
Authorities said the indictments were part of their ongoing efforts to dry up the market for high-tech goods being stolen from Metro riders, who have been increasingly targeted by thieves.
In 2010, police reported more than 1,000 robberies on Metro — a 150 percent spike in just five years. Thefts were up 60 percent in that same period.
However, during the first three months of this year, Metro police reported that robberies were down 20 percent vs. the same period in 2010; overall crime had decreased by 10 percent, Metro reported Friday.
At a recent congressional hearing, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier testified that crime is being driven from the District’s streets and into the Metro system, where criminals can make easy getaways.