In fall 2020, robbers hit over two dozen AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon cell phone stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Houston.
The armed, takeover-style robberies netted more than $500,000 in losses as the suspects gained access to store safes for new Apple iPhones. From Colleyville to Corinth and Garland to Greenville, the robberies continued for months.
Finally, the FBI and Dallas police arrested four members of the crew were arrested after robbing an AT&T store in Fort Worth in December, officials said.
Their arrests led investigators to the discovery of a much larger criminal conspiracy, a phone trafficking enterprise worth nearly $100 million, according to an indictment unsealed in a Texas federal court this week.
“The criminal conspiracy, as alleged in the superseding indictment, is breathtaking in scope and varied in its means,” acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Nicholas Ganjei said in a statement. “Although the public can often see criminal acts ‘above the surface,’ such as the violent robberies alleged in the superseding indictment, this case is a reminder that we do not often see the hidden criminal conspiracy ‘below the surface.’”
Investigators of the Fort Worth robbery obtained a search warrant that uncovered cell phones stolen earlier that night and phones from three other robberies as well as devices obtained by fraud, the indictment says. From there, the investigation focused on Global One Wireless, a Dallas phone store owned by Plano brothers Abdul Basit Bhangda, 30, and Arsalan “Adam” Bhangda, 36.
The brothers are accused of acting through parent corporation RJ Telecom to sell stolen products internationally by shipping them to importers in the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong. The indictment says nearly $100 million in products were sold to foreign importers. This included phones, tablets, laptops and smart watches.
As part of the conspiracy, “compromised” store employees also activated phones with fake identities and fraudulently added lines to existing customer accounts, officials said.
“Other schemes allegedly involved the use of fake identity information as well as legitimate customer information to swap SIM cards, enabling the defendants to verify banking information through text messages and withdraw funds from customer accounts,” federal prosecutors said in a news release.
The indictment charges 101 defendants with various offenses, including conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce; interference with interstate commerce; use or brandishing of a firearm during a crime of violence; conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce; mail fraud conspiracy; wire fraud conspiracy; and money laundering conspiracy.